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Joint UN-INTERPOL operation disrupts firearms supply to terrorist networks in West Africa and Sahel

In Burkina Faso, frontline officers carried out checks at suspected smuggling hotspots.
In Burkina Faso, frontline officers carried out checks at suspected smuggling hotspots.

Joint UN-INTERPOL operation disrupts firearms supply to terrorist networks in West Africa and Sahel

Law and Crime Prevention

An international operation coordinated jointly by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the international police organization INTERPOL has disrupted trafficking networks that supply terrorist groups across West Africa and the Sahel, the UN agency reported on Monday. 

Operation KAFO II targeted smuggling hotspots in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger over a seven-day period, resulting in the arrest of a number of suspected terrorists and the seizure of illicit firearms, ammunition and explosives. 

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“The fight against illicit firearms trafficking requires strong international and inter-agency cooperation, to identify the source of these arms and bring perpetrators to justice”, said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. 

“After the operational phase of KAFO II, it is important that UNODC and INTERPOL continue working together and support ongoing investigations and open cases”, she added. 

Lucrative business 

More than 260 officers from police, customs and other national services in the four countries, participated in the operation, which was conducted from 30 November to 6 December and focused on airports, seaports and land borders. 

They checked more than 12,000 individuals, vehicles, containers and goods against international criminal databases, and carried out physical searches, including to determine if suspects were using stolen travel documents or were known to police in any of INTERPOL’s 194 member countries. 

Besides arresting several suspected terrorists, officers intercepted 50 firearms, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and over 40,000 sticks of dynamite as well as 28 detonator cords. 

They also netted nearly 1,500 kilos of cannabis and the plant-based stimulant drug khat; some 60,000 litres of contraband fuel, and more than 2,000 boxes of contraband medical drugs. 

“Trafficking in firearms is a lucrative business which, in turn, fuels and funds other types of serious crimes,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. 

“Operation KAFO II shows the need to connect the dots between crime cases involving firearms and terrorists across different countries.” 

New trends in trafficking 

The joint operation also focused on disrupting the flow of illicit goods that finance criminal and terrorist activities as firearms trafficking is often associated with other forms of contraband, the partners said. 

The seizure of large quantities of contraband gasoline in Niger and Mali represented a new trend, they added, as it is believed the fuel came from Nigeria and was being trafficked to both finance and supply the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. 

Additionally, the dynamite and detonator cords were destined for use in illegal gold mining: a new source of financing but also a potential recruiting ground for armed groups operating in the Sahel. 

Meanwhile, the scores of contraband hand sanitizer gel containers, gloves and drugs seized during the operation indicate the market for these items is flourishing, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Training for arms tracing 

Ahead of the operation, partners provided the officers with skills training, including on how to use INTERPOL’s Illicit Arms Record and tracing Management System (iARMS). 

As a result, several hundred firearms recovered in the region over the past year were identified and traced back to the countries where they were manufactured, or last legally imported, to track their history of ownership and movement.  

This intelligence helped participating countries to better target firearms trafficking suspects, networks and hotspots. 

UNODC said investigations are now underway in efforts to build a strong case for prosecution.