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The UN must be given powers to break the link between terrorism and organised crime

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terrorist groups profiting from organised crime

The UN last week called on member states, NGOs and other organisations to do more to prevent terrorist groups profiting from organised crime. In a statement, Security Council President Joanna Wronecka encouraged member nations to investigate and prosecute extremists and criminal groups that work together, calling for a strengthening of national, regional and global systems designed to collect, analyse and exchange information about their activities. But while the sentiments behind the UN’s latest call to action were laudable, Wronecka’s statement contained little in the way of new policy suggestions, and barely differed from previous calls made by the organisation on the same subject, such as a 2014 resolution urging international action to break links between terrorists and transnational organised crime.

Since then, terrorist organisations have continued to derive large parts of their income from activities that have more traditionally been associated with organised criminal networks, with little sign that international law enforcement authorities have had much success in breaking the link between extremist groups and organised criminality. If anything, it appears terrorist organisations, particularly those of the Islamist variety, have become bolder in their efforts to raise revenue from organised crime. Only last week, Italian counter-terror police revealed they had broken up a suspected transnational people smuggling network that trafficked migrants across Europe and sent the profits it made to an al-Qa’ida-linked extremist group in Syria. It is thought the trafficking gang provided Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadis with €2 million ($2.38 million) in funding, which was funnelled through the hawala system, an informal remittance channel commonly used in Arab countries and South Asia.

Aside from people  smuggling, and in spite of their hard-line attitude towards the consumption of narcotics and alcohol on religious grounds, Islamist terrorist organisations appear to have few qualms about profiting from drug trafficking, or supplying illegal substances to their militants. In November last year, police in Italy intercepted a shipment of opioid painkiller Tramadol estimated to be worth €50 million, which investigators said was destined to be sold to Daesh fighters in the Middle East and North Africa. Italian officials suggested the extremist group may have organised the shipment in collaboration with the feared ’Ndrangheta mafia clan.

Last October, a report from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and professional service firm KPMG revealed that terrorist organisations around the globe rely on smuggling, counterfeiting and piracy to fund up to 20% of their operations. Anil Rajput, Chair of the FICCI’s Committee against Smuggling and Counterfeiting Activities Destroying Economy (CASCADE), said: “In today’s time, the world’s largest and most notorious terrorist organisations are relying on the proceeds from illicit trade to give shape to their evil ideas. It is my firm view that to conquer this menace, all stakeholders will have to collectively put their might behind the cause.”

As well as participating in more traditional types of organised crime, terrorist organisations such as Daesh have also proved adept at seeking out new sources of revenue as their circumstances change, many of which have required the support of already-established criminal networks. On top of profiting from the trafficking of drugs through its former so-called caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, Daesh was able to raise a fortune from selling fuel and cultural artefacts it had plundered from the two countries. Much of this was smuggled out of the areas the group controlled and sold onto corrupt nation states or criminal gangs.

In its latest call for member nations to do all they can to break the link between extremism and organised crime, the UN was quick to say any new measures taken to counter terrorism “must comply with all [members states’] obligations under international law”, while at the same time offering no new policies itself. In fact, the only tangible idea Wronecka mentioned in her address was a vague suggestion that member states should “prevent the movement of terrorists by effective national border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents”, which sounded in essence not entirely dissimilar to US President Donald Trump’s much-derided travel ban, which the UN itself dismissed as “mean-spirited” and illegal under human rights law.

And this is where the problem lies. The UN should be given the power to force member states to take real action to curb the illicit activities from which terrorist organisations are able to profit. As things stand, all it can do is issue platitude-laden statements from the side-lines, imploring member nations to take action. With no sanctions for refusing to do so, it is all but inevitable that the coordinated response the UN has called for will fail to materialise. Member states should vote to give the UN the teeth it needs to force the introduction of the border controls and travel restrictions it thinks will help prevent terrorists from seeking to profit from organised crime, while the Security Council itself should spend less time worrying about the human rights of terrorist suspects. If they do not, UN interventions on the issue will come to be seen as futile as they are increasingly irrelevant.

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‘Golden Triangle’ countries must work together to stamp out growing meth production, UN urges

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stamp out growing meth production

The United Nations has warned that organised criminal networks operating in Asia’s Mekong region have boosted their production and trafficking of methamphetamine to “alarming levels”.

Senior drug policy officials from Cambodia, China, Lao, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam yesterday attended a UN-backed regional conference on the issue, where delegates heard how the groups are extending their illegal trade into countries including Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

At the conference, which opened in Burmese capital Nay Pyi Taw on Monday, officials were told that while production of heroin and opium in the region had fallen recently, organised crime gangs have hiked their production and distribution of both low grade yaba methamphetamine, and high-purity crystal methamphetamine.

The UN told officials from “Golden Triangle” countries they must work closely together to crack down on the record amounts of both drugs that are being produced in and exported out of the region, and take action against the crooked law enforcement agents and customs officers who allow the illicit trade to thrive.

UN officials said the region’s heroin and methamphetamine market is worth an estimated $40 billion a year, and noted that a number of Mekong countries have already surpassed the total number of drug seizures they made during the whole of last year, despite being less than hallway through 2018.

Organised crime groups in the region are thought to have boosted drug production in illicit laboratories in locations such as Burma’s conflict-ridden Shan State, with a view to shipping their product to new markets with the help of corrupt officials.

Addressing the conference, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas said: “Responding to the situation requires acknowledging some difficult realities, and agreeing to new approaches at a strategic regional level.

“Here in Myanmar it means focusing on peace and security in the Golden Triangle and places where conflict and the drug economy are connected.

“Ensuring governance and the rule of law will be crucial to any long-term reduction in drug production and trafficking.

“To be candid, it also means addressing the corruption, conditions and vulnerabilities that allow organised crime to keep expanding operations and exploiting the region.”

In April, a Vietnamese national who attempted to smuggle methamphetamine worth an estimated NZ$11.6 million ($8.53 million) into New Zealand concealed inside a home drinking water system was jailed for 10 years.

Than Qui Phan, 25, was told he must serve a minimum of four years after he admitted smuggling multiple packages of methamphetamine into the country.

Back in October of last year, Australian law enforcement agents seized nearly four tonnes of a precursor ingredient used to make methamphetamine which had been concealed in green tea bottles imported into the country from Thailand.

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Social media firms must ban ‘drill’ rap videos to prevent gun and knife crime in London, police chief warns

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ban ‘drill’ rap videos

Speaking with Nick Ferrari on his show on Britain’s LBC radio station yesterday morning, London’s most-senior police officer called on social media companies to remove drill music rap videos from their networks to help reduce gang crime across the British capital.

Discussing a huge rise in gang-related firearm and knife crime in the UK that earlier this year saw London’s murder rate surpass New York’s, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said there is a legal and ethical obligation on firms such as YouTube and Twitter to remove videos that glamorise violence and include death threats.

“I am working closely with social media companies to get them to think about what they can do about this,” she said.

“For us, if it’s against the law, it’s against the law and should be taken down. If it is inciting or glamorising violence, then we think they have a social responsibility to work with us to take those videos down.”

Dick also warned middle class recreational drug users they cannot escape the fact that their consumption of illegal substances is inextricably linked to a surge in violence that has seen dozens of young men lose their lives across London this year.

The Commissioner was speaking after two young men who had appeared on popular rap DJ Tim Westwood’s YouTube channel were jailed for murdering a filmmaker.

The Old Bailey heard how Devone Pusey, 20, and Kai Stewart, 18, knifed Dean Pascal-Modeste, 22, to death after making threats on drill rap videos.

Remanding both men in custody earlier this month ahead of sentencing, Judge Nicholas Cooke, QC, said :”This is yet another dreadful example of London’s knife crime, gangs interested in using violence solely because someone comes from a different district or post code.

“Such violence is often fuelled by musical taunts online, posted on YouTube or other social media outlets.”

Drill music videos typically feature gangs of young men lurking around inner-city estates, boasting about selling drugs and their easy access to – and regular use of – lethal weapons, including guns and knives.

The videos routinely feature gang members firing off violent threats to their rivals while making shooting and stabbing gestures with their hands.

Earlier this month, another drill rapper who had appeared on Westwood’s YouTube channel was shot dead on the streets of the UK capital.

Seventeen-year-old Rhyiem Ainsworth Barton became the 15th teenager to be killed in London since Christmas.

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People smugglers identified during Interpol operation in South Asia

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Interpol operation in South Asia

An Interpol-led operation has resulted in the identification of a number of suspected human traffickers in South Asia.

The coordinated effort, dubbed Operation Mandala, involved officials carrying out checks on travellers at five international airports and one land border point in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Close to 500,000 people had their personal details checked against Interpol’s nominal and Stolen Lost Travel Document (SLTD) databases during the initiative, resulting in multiple positive “hits”.

A number of individuals subject to Interpol Red and Blue Notices were identified during the checks, as were several travel documents registered on the SLTD database.

Two suspected people smugglers thought to have been operational in the region were identified, as was a Sri Lankan national who had been made the subject of a Red Notice from the United Arab Emirates for misappropriation of funds.

Mahbubur Rahman, Deputy Inspector General for Operations and Head of the National Central Bureau in Dhaka, said in a statement: “The operation has helped enhance the efficiency of immigration officers in Bangladesh in screening travel documents and following up on potential hits.

“We appreciate the support of Interpol in securing our country’s borders and will be extending this application to additional border points in the future.”

The effort formed part of Interpol’s Project Relay, a Canadian-funded crackdown on people smugglers active in South Asia that includes the provision of training for local law enforcement agents, and aims to improve systems and offer technical equipment and support.

Earlier this week, Interpol announced that its global databases, including the SLTD bank, are playing an increasingly key role in helping European law enforcement authorities enhance security and safety.

Since 2014, European use of SLTD data has increased by more than 200% – with a 600% growth in the Schengen zone alone, attendees at the 46th Interpol European Regional Conference in Dublin were told.

Charles Flanagan, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality, commented: “The work of Interpol over the past almost 100 years epitomizes the value of police services across the world working together.

“Thanks to the excellent cooperation fostered by Interpol, police officers here in Ireland and across the world are provided with invaluable support in their efforts to protect citizens from terrorism and crime in all its many forms.

“The global network of Interpol National Bureaus that operate around the clock handling enquiries plays a vital role in this and I’d like to pay tribute to the Irish Interpol National Central Bureau based in Garda Headquarters for its contribution to this network, and also to the members of An Garda Síochána who have served in INTERPOL’s General Secretariat Headquarters in Lyon over the years.”

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