Counter-terror investigators from Italy have broken up a suspected transnational people smuggling network that trafficked migrants across Europe and sent profits to an al-Qa’ida-linked extremist group in Syria.
Italian prosecutors yesterday said a police operation targeting the group resulted in the arrest of 14 people on the island of Sardinia and parts of northern Italy.
Four of the suspects arrested in Sardinia were described as being Islamist militants with links to al-Nusra Front, a group that used to be al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria, but is now part of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadi alliance after it broke ties with the Osama bin Laden-founded group.
It is thought the trafficking network provided extremists in Syria with €2 million ($2.38 million) in funding as well as a number of fighters.
Speaking with reporters, Italian chief terrorism prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho said an investigation into the activities of the network uncovered evidence of terrorist financing and the facilitating of illegal immigration, and that some of the funds raised by the group had been used to purchase weapons.
Telling journalists the success of the operation highlighted the professionalism of Italian law enforcement authorities, De Raho said the arrest of the suspects proved there is a link between illegal migration and terrorism.
He added that investigators found no evidence that members of the gang had brought jihadi fighters into Italy.
“We don’t have evidence that this network brought foreign fighters into Italy as migrants, but it is true that part of the funds this network managed came from clandestine immigration and they were used to support terrorism,” China’s Xinhua news agency quoted De Raho as saying.
Eleven of the suspects were Syrian nationals. The other three were said to be Moroccan. All of those arrested held Italian residency.
The network was disrupted as a result of a joint operation conducted by counter-terror and anti-mafia police.
Twenty properties were raided in Sardinia and the northern city of Brescia as part of the operation.
The funds the gang raised were laundered and transferred to jihadi fighters through the hawala system, an informal remittance channel that exists outside of traditional banking systems commonly used in Arab countries and South Asia.
Money raised by the network is said to have been collected by Syrian nationals in Hungary, Sweden and Turkey, before being channelled through Austria, Denmark, Germany and Holland, as well as the Middle East.
The hawala money transfer system has long been notorious as a conduit for terrorist financing, and has been widely used by extremist fundraisers to funnel cash to jihadi groups in the Middle East such as Daesh and al-Nusra.
US citizens spent $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth in 2016
A new report published by non-profit research organisation RAND has revealed that US citizens spent almost $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine in 2016.
The study, titled What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, also found that the US cannabis market is approximately the same size as the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and that America’s retail heroin trade has grown to become closer to the size of the cannabis market than it is to those for other illcit substances.
Some 2.4 million Americans used cocaine on four or more days over the course of one month between 2015 and 2016, while heroin consumption across the country increased by around 10% every 12 months between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.
The report noted that the introduction and spread of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl had increased the risk attached to taking heroin and complicated researchers’ analysis of the market over the study period.
RAND discovered that the lion’s share of money spent on drugs in the US comes from a relatively small number of people who use illicit substances on a daily or almost daily basis.
Researchers also said that while national data sets on the consumption of methamphetamine in the US are poor, an increase in the number of seizures of the drug across the country and at its southwest border with Mexico between 2007 and 2016 tallied with a rise in usage over the same period.
The report recommended that the federal government reintroduce Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) to help researchers better map and understand patterns in the usage of illegal substances such as methamphetamine and fentanyl.
It also noted that wastewater analysis is another good approach for estimating drug consumption across the US, observing that such testing has been used effectively in other countries such as Australia, which publishes the results of wastewater drug analysis annually.
Commenting on the findings of the study, Greg Midgette, the report’s lead author who serves as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland and an adjunct policy researcher at RAND, said: “To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and the effects of policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in markets for these substances.
“But it is challenging to generate these estimates, and given that critical data sources have been eliminated, it will likely be harder to generate these figures in the future.”
Customs officers in Guinea provided with training on how to use Interpol border security tools
As part of its ongoing efforts to bolster the abilities of law enforcement agencies in West Africa, Interpol has led a border security operation in the region intended to highlight the importance of targeting individuals attempting to use counterfeit travel papers.
Operation Stop kicked off with a two-day training course at the end of July during which border security officials in Guinea were taught how to use a number of Interpol resources such as the global policing agency’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database.
The resource is intended to help investigators across the globe check the validity of travel documents in seconds, allowing them to quickly identify incidents of document fraud, detect individuals attempting to travel illegally, and crack down on illicit cross-border financial flows.
As part of the initiative, Interpol extended access to its I-24/7 secure police communication system to security officials at the international airport in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, as well as to other law enforcement units outside the Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB), allowing them direct access to the organisation’s criminal databases.
After initial training sessions, Interpol oversaw two days of live operations at the airport, which involved border officers screening passengers using the tools they had been taught how to operate.
Local officials were also encouraged to run passenger details from the previous month’s flights though the database to reinforce the skills and knowledge they had acquired.
After conducting over 23,000 checks, border force officers at the airport identified three positive “hits” against documents recorded in the SLTD database.
Harald Arm, Interpol Director of Operational Support and Analysis, commented: “Police are just one piece of the border security puzzle.
“Access to the right tools at the right locations, the skills to use them effectively and coordination with other relevant law enforcement agencies, must all combine to ensure countries can best protect their borders.
“Activities such as Operation Stop which bring all these aspects together and encourage cooperation nationally, regionally and globally will have a lasting positive impact on border security throughout West Africa.”
Earlier this month, Interpol announced that it had headed up a separate border control operation in West Africa that resulted in the rescue of over 100 suspected victims of human trafficking, including 35 children.
This followed a similar Interpol-led effort in the region back in April, which saw almost 220 suspected human trafficking victims being identified and rescued in Benin and Nigeria.
A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that 25% of all CDs “fulfilled by Amazon” in the US are counterfeit.
A recent sample purchase programme conducted by the RIAA, which represents major labels that are responsible for the creation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 85% of all legitimately recorded music produced in the US, also found that 100% of new “high-quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the US were counterfeit”.
The exercise revealed that 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were fake, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were bogus.
Publishing the findings of its sample purchase programme, the RIAA said it had also observed the sale of fake “best of” or “greatest hits” CDs or vinyl that purport to be from major record label artists on these platforms, even when the labels in question had never released such albums.
The association said it continues to see a high number of incidents in which its members branding has been used without permission on multiple ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Redbubble and Bonanza.
“These infringements not only undermine revenues from legitimate sources to music creators and owners, they also harm the reputation and goodwill associated with the artists, brands or logos at issue,” the RIAA said.
“This harm is exacerbated by limited and inconsistent enforcement by online third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries to address counterfeit listings and sellers of counterfeit products.”
Responding to the RIAA’s findings in a statement given to Digital Music News, Amazon said: “Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.
“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed.”
Last month, research conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during the company’s annual Prime Day event.
Earlier in July, Amazon announced the expansion of its flagship anti-counterfeiting Transparency programme to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, India and Canada.
First launched in the US back in March 2017, the initiative allows companies to apply unique T-shaped QR-style codes to their products, which can be used by customers, brands, Amazon and other participants in the supply chain to authenticate items being offered for sale.
- US citizens spent $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth in 2016
- Customs officers in Guinea provided with training on how to use Interpol border security tools
- Why drug trafficking cartels favour smuggling their illicit cargo in consignments of fruit
- A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns
- Canadian police target young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
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