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Irrespective of US legal battles, terrorists are plotting to use 3D-printed weapons against us

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3D-printed firearms blueprints

Regardless of the final outcome of an ongoing US court battle over the online availability of 3D-printed firearms blueprints, the genie is already well and truly out of the bottle when it comes to how easily people are able to get their hands on downloadable weapons. While pro-gun advocates argue the availability of 3D-printed gun blueprints is more a question of freedom and their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment than anything else, firearms control campaigners have rightly raised concerns over how these types of weapons could pose a significant threat if they fall into the wrong hands, where they are all but guaranteed to end up.

Downloading a 3D-printed weapon blueprint allows anybody with a rudimental level of knowledge and access to the right technology to create a plastic gun that is virtually untraceable and could be smuggled past metal detectors. Irrespective of which way the legal battle goes over the availability of 3D-pirnted gun blueprints goes, the information needed to create them is already widely available on the dark web, making the outcome of such proceedings close to irrelevant. And while firearms experts have noted that the current generation of 3D weapons are too flimsy and unreliable to pose a major law enforcement threat, it is all but inevitable that organised criminals and terrorists will look to harness the technology as it advances.

While the prospect of petty criminals and gangsters getting their hands on blueprints for untraceable guns they can make at home is of course concerning, the opportunities 3D-printed weapons could open up for terrorist organisations are perhaps of greater worry. Groups such as al-Qa’ida and Daesh are constantly developing new forms of weapons they hope can be used to attack targets in the West, as well as organisations and individuals in the territories from which they operate. Over the years, jihadi groups such as these have proved adept at creating new types of explosive devices and other weapons they can use to spread terror around the globe, and while more recent attacks across Europe and the US have been more low tech in nature, it would be foolish to assume that Islamist organisations have abandoned more sophisticated methods in favour of lone wolf truck and knife assaults.

In fact, evidence has already emerged that Daesh has been experimenting with creating 3D-pirnted bombs. In November 2016, Popular Mechanics reported that Iraqi forces had discovered a Daesh drone factory that appeared to contain such weapons. The components from which the explosives were constructed were made up of honeycomb structures, suggesting they could have been made using a 3D printer. Security services around the globe have feared for some time that groups such as Daesh might launch bomb attacks in the West using consumer drones after the jihadi organisation did just that close to the Iraqi city of Mosul in October 2016, killing two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and wounding two French soldiers. Since then, security experts have cautioned that Islamists could use explosive-laden drones to attack events such as this summer’s World Cup football tournament in Russia.

Jihadi terrorist plotters have a rich recent history of coming up with new ways in which to attack Western interests, resulting in the security services of target nations struggling to stay ahead of their innovations. It has now been more than 12 years since the aviation industry was forced to introduce a blanket ban on the carrying on board of liquids measuring over 100ml after a plot was discovered to bring down a transatlantic flight from London to North America in 2006. Last year, the US temporarily banned passengers travelling from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa from carrying larger electronic devices on board after a jihadi from the UK planned to smuggle bombs “disguised as laptop batteries” on planes. Previously, an al-Qa’ida master bomb maker had experimented with the idea of surgically implanting explosives into suicide bombers’ bodies. Ibrahim al-Asiri, who was reported to have been killed in a coalition drone strike earlier this month, is said to have abandoned the idea in favour of exploring new ways of concealing explosives in electronic devices such as laptops and printers.

While it may be the case that the types of 3D-printed weapon downloads currently available online can only be used to create guns that are too flimsy and unreliable to depend on while attempting to carry out a terrorist attack, the fact that these firearms could already be smuggled past airport security should raise significant fears for security services worldwide. It would appear that Jihadi groups are already exploring how they can use this emerging technology to attack their enemies, and will almost certainly be able to stay at the cutting edge as it develops. As it is now just a matter of time until a sturdy and reliable 3D-printed weapon is developed, it is more vital than ever that our security services are able to stay one step ahead of those who wish to do us harm.

 

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Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

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poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

Poachers have stolen 96 million abalone sea snails from the coastal waters of South Africa over the past 18 years, leading to a huge collapse in numbers of a species that was once abundant in the region, according to a new report from illegal wildlife trade monitoring NGO Traffic.

The study found that 90% of seas snails smuggled out of South Africa make their way to Hong Kong, where the animal’s meat is considered a delicacy, as it is in many other Asian nations.

Traffic estimates that poachers in South Africa are typically responsible for the disappearance of 2,000 tonnes of abalone every year, more than 20 times the amount that is allowed to be farmed legally.

In total, the illicit market is thought to be worth some $60 million annually.

Traffic’s report, which has been released alongside a documentary that explores the illegal trade, warns that the rocketing illegal harvesting of the animal is resulting in a huge annual loss for the local economy, and is at least partly being controlled by organised crime networks.

According to the study, an average of at least one abalone seizure took place every day between 2000 and 2016.

“Continued illegal harvesting and associated trade will have devastating impacts on abalone stocks and far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences for coastal communities whose economies, to a greater or lesser extent, are dependent on the proceeds of abalone poaching and trade,” the study says.

Noting the trade’s link to organised criminal cartels, it said: “Seizures of abalone often involved seizures of other contraband, commonly cash, cars or drugs.

“A number of seizures have included other high-value wildlife products, suggesting that the syndicates involved are not only focusing on the trade in poached abalone.”

Concluding its report, Traffic makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of traceability systems, regional collaboration with neighbouring countries to prevent the smuggling of abalone, and the setting up of state-driven socio-economic initiatives to stem poaching of the animal.

Abalone can fetch more than $550 a plate in parts of Asia, driving many poor South Africans to take up poaching, risking their lives by diving in search of the in-demand mollusc.

The decline in local populations of sea snails has also been hit by the presence of Asian organised crime groups, who have moved into the area to take advantage of increasing demand for the animal in their home countries.

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No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn

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no-deal Brexit

The UK’s ability to tackle terrorism sand serious organised crime will be severely hampered by a hard Brexit, British police chiefs have warned.

Pulling out of the EU without a deal could see UK law enforcement agencies and security services lose access to vital crime-fighting tools such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s intelligence systems and data held by Europol.

Announcing a new £2 million ($2.6 million) unit that will explore how alternative systems could be used if no deal is struck between the EU and Britain before the end of next March, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton said: “The fallbacks we’re going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it will make it harder for us to protect UK citizens and make it harder to protect EU citizens.”

“We are determined to do everything we can to mitigate that, but it will be hard.”

Using the recent Salisbury Novichok attack as an example of how a no-deal Brexit could impact UK police operations, Thornton noted how much more difficult it would be for Britain to detain the two men suspected of carrying it out should they enter the EU without a European Arrest Warrant in place.

The new unit will examine the effectiveness of non-EU crime fighting institutions and mechanisms, such as Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions.

In a statement on the contingency plans, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said the withdrawal of resources such as the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats would seriously impact Britain’s ability “to track criminals’ movements, monitor sex offenders and locate fugitives”.

“European law enforcement is more effective when we take coordinated action against shared priorities,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General of Operations.

“A lack of access to these European tools would mean a reduction in the ability of the UK to contribute to keeping Europe safe.”

In May, the Times of London reported that France had attempted to block British attempts to remain part of EU security systems after Brexit, quoting one UK government official as saying: “Normally France is quite helpful when it comes to security co-operation but on this they are being awkward.”

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike

The Indian Government has said it is considering taking action to slow the importation of gold into the country, but wants to avoid an increase in importation duties due to fears over smuggling.

A source told India’s PTI news agency that officials are instead considering alternative policy interventions to curb imports, which are having an adverse effect on the value of the rupee.

“There is not much scope for hike in import duty on gold,” the source said.

“Rather, it would be some kind of policy measures to reduce gold import. Higher import duty on gold may increase smuggling activities.”

While failing to specify the measures the Government is considering, the source said raising import duty on gold so close to the festive season would likely result in an increase in smuggling attempts.

Indian officials are due this week to announce a new list of items that will be subject to importation limits as part of wider efforts to cut the country’s growing current account deficit, and stem the fall of the rupee.

A comprehensive list of non-essential items are being considered, including steel, finished steel, furniture, electronics and a number of food items.

The smuggling of gold into India has rocketed over recent years after the Government hiked import duties to 10% in 2013 as part of an earlier effort to cut the country’s current account deficit.

According to the World Gold Council, traffickers smuggled some 120 tons of gold into India last year, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018.

In October last year, customs officers arrested 11 gold mules from Sri Lanka at Madurai Airport who were attempting to smuggle precious metal into the country concealed with their rectums.

Earlier this year, a cabin crew worker from Singapore Airlines was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on suspicion of attempting to smuggle gold into the country.

After searching the flight steward, customs officers discovered gold weighing 1.05kg worth an estimated 3.1 million rupees ($50,000), according to the airport’s Joint Commissioner of Customs Anubha Singh.

Commenting at the time, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson confirmed that a member of its cabin crew staff had been detained by Delhi customs authorities, adding: “Singapore Airlines will provide full co-operation to the investigating authorities. We are unable to provide details of the crew member concerned due to confidentiality reasons.”

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