Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock has welcomed the decision by European Union (EU) ministers for all EU external border control points to be connected to Interpol’s global databases and for automatic screening of travel documents to be introduced by March next year.
The outcome was one of several measures put forward to strengthen border controls agreed at an Extraordinary Meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers held in Brussels following the Paris terror attacks of Friday 13 November.
Conclusions adopted at the end of the meeting also call for all EU Member States to carry out systematic registration – including fingerprinting – of third country nationals illegally entering the Schengen area and to perform systematic security checks with Interpol.
Secretary General Stock explained that integrating access to Interpol’s databases for front line police and critical locations such as national counter-terrorism units, identification centres and illegal border crossing checkpoints would enable EU Member States to strengthen their defences and “turn intelligence into action”.
To date, more than 50 countries have provided information for inclusion on Interpol’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter database (more of which anon). That database currently contains the details of some 6,000 individuals, with more than 50% of the data held emanating from non-EU sources.
“European security depends on real-time access to foreign information,” said Secretary General Stock. “Every additional record made available across borders builds a new opportunity for Europe, but every piece of information left unexploited potentially creates a new risk.”
Stock pointed to the “realistic and available” police capabilities provided by Interpol for information-sharing across its network, which now spans no less than 190 member countries.
Interpol systems have already been integrated within the passenger name records databases of several member countries, in turn enabling them to conduct instant checks on travellers.
The EU meeting also called for the European Commission to undertake efforts designed to achieve interoperability in relation to security checks, in particular referencing the Schengen Information System II and Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) and Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System (iARMS) databases.
Interpol’s SLTD database currently encompasses the details of nearly 54 million documents from 170 countries, including information on 250,000 passports reported lost or stolen – among them blank documents – by Syria and Iraq. For its part, the iARMS database enables “information exchange and investigative co-operation” between law enforcement agencies in relation to the international movement of illicit firearms, as well as those licit firearms linked to criminal activity.
Highlighting the recent terror attacks in Mali, Nigeria, Turkey and Lebanon, Interpol’s leader suggested the need for co-operation had never been stronger. “The more information we have, the more information we can make available to our member countries around the world to enhance security at the national, regional and global levels,” asserted Stock.
Meeting targets Foreign Terrorist Fighter networks and travel routes
The Extraordinary Meeting has taken place during the same week in which law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials from around the world gathered in Spain to exchange information linked to Foreign Terrorist Fighters travelling to and from the Syria and Iraq conflict zones.
Some 111 participants from nearly 40 countries exchanged Best Practice advice on how to address and neutralise the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups who are using expertise gained in the wider conflict zone as a platform to train and plan attacks against Western and other targets.
The three-day Working Group ran from 18-20 November to help security specialists in developing a global overview of the current terror threat posed by both individuals and networks alike.
Opening the meeting, Jorge Fernández Díaz (Spain’s Minister of the Interior) stated that international co-operation is “essential” in facing terrorism, and that Spain would continue to work closely with Interpol and all those committed to combating this threat.
The meeting, which was co-hosted by the Spanish National Police and Interpol’s National Central Bureau in Madrid, addressed four key topics:
*Gathering intelligence on foreign terrorist fighters via social media
*Identifying and disrupting travel (and travel facilitation networks)
*Involvement of returnees in terrorist or other criminal activity
*Terror attacks by radicalised individuals who have not travelled to conflict zones
Since the unanimous adoption in September last year of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2178 (which identified Interpol as the ‘global law enforcement information sharing’ platform), data on foreign terrorist fighters shared through the organisation’s channels has increased a staggering six-fold, with some 5,800 individuals identified in Interpol’s systems.
Last month, a US Homeland Security Committee Task Force report recognised Interpol’s systems as ‘crucial global tools for combating terrorist and foreign fighter travel’. The report also highlighted how data from the world’s policing body had enabled US law enforcement to identify “hundreds” of previously unknown terrorist suspects and foreign fighters.