Arrests, thousands of seizures in African clampdown on firearms trafficking

An international police operation coordinated by INTERPOL targeting the movement of illicit firearms in Central and West Africa has led to some 120 arrests and the seizure of firearms, gold, drugs, fake medication, wildlife products and cash.

Operation Trigger VIII (13 – 19 June) involved some 520 law enforcement officials targeting 35 hotspots across eight African countries: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Key operational highlights

More than 20,000 checks were carried out against INTERPOL’s global databases, resulting in the recovery of 480 firearms and 42 arrests tied to firearms offences. In addition, 14 organized crime networks were identified and dismantled.

Authorities seized some 6,000 firearm parts, components, ammunition and explosives, and EUR 110,000 in cash.

Reinforced border controls and surveillance once again demonstrated that organized crime groups are benefiting from a convergence of crimes and using the same routes for a number of illicit activities.

An additional 78 arrests were made in connection with trafficking in illicit goods, with more than 45 tonnes seized, including more than 3 of fake medication, 1.5 tonnes of drugs (cannabis, amphetamines and opioids) and more than 10,000 litres of contraband petrol.

Some 40 tonnes of fins of endangered shark species were recovered in Guinea, while authorities in the Central African Republic dismantled a network suspected of supplying poachers with firearms and ammunition. The Democratic Republic of Congo reported the seizure of 141 elephant tusks.

Firearms trafficking links with organized crime and terrorist funding

With illicit gold mining suspected of financing terrorism and armed militant groups in the Sahel region, authorities also launched more than 85 active investigations into the links between firearms trafficking, transnational organized crime and terrorism financing. More than 26 kg of illicitly mined gold and 170 kg of explosives were seized during the operation.

Souley Boubacar, Director General of Niger’s National Police, underlined ‘the collective security role’ played by Operation Trigger VIII and called for further such operations to address regional security challenges.

In this respect, investigations into terrorist financing are ongoing in Mali and Niger, after illicit gold mining sites were uncovered and shut down in Mali.

“In a Sahel region plagued by insecurity, I welcome the undertaking of such an operation, which contributes to the strengthening of international police cooperation, the only guarantee of success in the fight against terrorism and other forms of crime,” said Roger Ouedraogo, Director General of Burkina Faso’s National Police.

Transnational cooperation via INTERPOL

“Operations such as Trigger VIII underscore how firearms trafficking represents a grave transnational threat, facilitating the activities of organized crime networks and terrorist groups.”Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General

“They also highlight the connections between different types of criminality and the continued need for cooperation between countries and across regions,” added Secretary General Stock.

The results of the operation were down to the Trigger operational model involving a year-long preparatory phase that saw awareness campaigns and national training activities in the targeted regions, ending with pre-operational coordination and exercises in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Training was provided on firearms identification, financial investigations, INTERPOL’s global databases and the use of the INTERPOL Mobile Device (IMD) at hotspots and border control points to check individuals and vehicles in real time.

The training also focused on the profiling, identification and tracing of ammunition and explosives, as well as follow-up investigations on recovered firearms via the use of the INTERPOL Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System (iARMS).

Operation Trigger VIII was supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Project Target, and the European Union through Project Disrupt in partnership with the UNODC.