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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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Interpol-coordinated operation results in shutdown of international dark web paedophile ring

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international dark web paedophile ring

A two-year Interpol-led investigation into an international paedophile network has resulted in the rescue of 50 suspected child abuse victims, as well as the arrest and prosecution of multiple sex offenders in Australia, Thailand and the US, the international law enforcement agency has announced.

Interpol said that it expects more suspects to be detained and charged as police in approaching 60 nations proceed with investigations launched as a result of evidence gathered during the operation, which targeted a hidden dark web paedophile platform with some 63,000 users across the globe.

Operation Blackwrist, which is said to have been named after a bracelet worn by one of the suspected offenders detained during the probe, was launched after Interpol found child sexual exploitation material that was traced back to a subscription-based site on the dark web.

Interpol said the content depicted the abuse of 11 boys, all of whom were aged under 13.

The website published new indecent images every week over the course of a number of years, during which time its administrator took great care to avoid identification, even going so far as to mask the children that were abused in the material he posted online.

Investigators from Interpol sought help from international law enforcement agencies after using the physical characteristics of the children who appeared in the content posted on the website to track their abuse.

The first victims were identified back in November 2017, leading to the detention of numerous suspets linked to the website two months later in Australia and Thailand, where the website’s main administrator was identified as Montri Salangam.

Interpol said Salangam was the man seen abusing the 11 boys that featured in the content that initially alerted the agency to the website.

The children, who included the man’s nephew, had been lured to Salangam’s home with meals, internet access and football games.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “Operation Blackwrist sends a clear message to those abusing children, producing child sexual exploitation material and sharing the images online: We see you, and you will be brought to justice.”

“Every child abuse image is evidence of a crime and Interpol will always provide its full support to officers on the ground to help identify and rescue victims around the world.”

Separately, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service yesterday revealed that a paedophile deputy headteacher of a school in London had been jailed for 28 months after being found guilty of live-streaming children being sexually abused while he was high on cocaine and methamphetamine.

Paul Newbury, 50, was caught when undercover police officers infiltrated the chat rooms he was using, and filmed him sitting naked on his sofa smoking drugs as he watched a live video of a girl aged around eight being abused.

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe

Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.

A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.

Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.

The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.

According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.

The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.

Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”

Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.

Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.

“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”

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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.

The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.

Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.

During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.

Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.

The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.

According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.

In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.

“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”

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