Detecting travellers as potential terrorists at African borders
A counter terrorism operation coordinated by INTERPOL and AFRIPOL has enabled frontline police across Africa to detect potential terrorists and seize dangerous and prohibited goods.
The pan-African operation codenamed ‘FLASH-PACT,’ aimed at strengthening the ability of border officers on the frontlines to identify suspected terrorists and dismantle the networks behind them, took place in two phases between July and September.
Using INTERPOL’s global criminal databases for wanted people, stolen travel and identity documents, and stolen vehicles, law enforcement worked together with INTERPOL and AFRIPOL to locate, intercept and stop criminals trying to cross regional borders.
Operation FLASH PACT: Intelligence-led, collaborative and strategic
Underlining the need for a pan-African, multi-stakeholder effort against terrorism, the operation involved police, customs, border forces and counter-terrorism experts, including INTERPOL Regional Counter-Terrorism Nodes in Abidjan and Nairobi.
Participating countries focused their operations at airports, seaports, land border crossings and a range of pre-identified terrorist hotspots.
Ahead of tactical operations, investigators collected and examined data to establish a clear threat picture on regional terrorism using globally sourced data from INTERPOL’s 195 member countries.
Stronger borders, stronger national security
With stolen travel documents a key asset for terrorist mobility, particularly foreign terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones, the operation saw INTERPOL’s databases queried more than six million times, resulting in some 400 hits on INTERPOL’s travel and identity documents database.
Access to INTERPOL databases at border control points saw nine people flagged as Red Notice subjects. An INTERPOL Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
Highlighting how terrorist activity often converges with other crime areas, more than 20 people were identified as wanted by INTERPOL for a wide range of serious crimes including fraud, money laundering, drugs and wildlife trafficking.
One man was flagged as the subject of an INTERPOL-United Nations Security Council (UNSS) Special Notice which alerts the global law enforcement community to individuals that are subject to sanctions imposed by the UNSS. The three most common sanctions are asset freezing, travel ban and arms embargo.
Several INTERPOL Blue Notice subjects were detected attempting to cross borders in the participating countries. A Blue Notice serves to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location or activities in relation to a crime.
“Western and Eastern Africa have seen increased terrorism in the past decade. This is quickly spreading its devastating impact southwards, causing death, fear and destruction – a devastation for African communities and economies,” said INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services Stephen Kavanagh.
“Counter-terrorism operations like FLASH-PACT are clear evidence of the joint commitment AFRIPOL-INTERPOL partnership as it allows us to share expertise on local terrorist networks, better understand their methods, motives and financing and ultimately identify and arrest those who chose to spread terror,” added Mr Kavanagh.
Officers in Uganda and Benin detained six travellers using forged passports, and in Mozambique police authorities arrested a man in possession of an AK-47 assault weapon, two magazines and 51 rounds of ammunition. In another case, police seized 360 rolls of explosives and a detonating cord.
More than 250 travellers were arrested for attempted illegal immigration, and several stolen luxury vehicles were recovered in Tanzania.
A powerful partnership
INTERPOL, AFRIPOL and the African Union work side by side on matters of joint interest, sharing resources and expertise, and developing combined responses to Africa’s policing needs.
“As a regional police organization, AFRIPOL provides a framework for police cooperation at the strategic, tactical and operational levels in all African states, helping us build stronger, meaningful capabilities for African law enforcement through our partnership with INTERPOL,” said AFRIPOL’s Acting Executive Director, Ambassador Jalel Chelba.
“It is important to underline the role of joint operations such as FLASHPACT in enhancing cooperation and security for African countries. INTERPOL’s support has enabled the sharing of intelligence information which leads to a greater security through arrests and seizures,” added Ambassador Chelba.
Operation FLASH-PACT is the first counter-terrorism operation organized by the two police Organizations since the establishment of AFRIPOL by the African Union in 2014.
The operation was coordinated with the help of INTERPOL’s Support Programme for the African Union (ISPA) which assists AFRIPOL in developing its strategic framework and operational functions across the continent and in fighting transnational crime and terrorism with INTERPOL and other regional policing bodies.