BRUSSELS - Eighty-six countries joined representatives of the World Customs Organization (WCO), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to discuss an unprecedented international effort to counter the illicit diversion and trafficking of precursor chemicals that may be used by terrorists and other criminal organizations to manufacture explosive devices.
The seminar which took place at WCO headquarters focused on increased cooperation among Customs and police agencies, the sharing of information and best practices, and collaboration on investigations. Stronger customs/police partnerships on the ground bolstered by the support of key anti-crime stakeholders will improve the ability of frontline officials to identify, target and seize illegal shipments at land, sea and air border crossings including container facilities.
Chemicals that can be used to manufacture improvised explosive devices (IED) include ammonium nitrate, used in the 1995 bombing of a U.S. Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 and injured over 650, and hydrogen peroxide, used in the 2005 bombing of London's public transportation system that killed 52 and injured over 700.
According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center's 2009 Report on Terrorism, there were approximately 11,000 terrorist attacks in 83 countries, resulting in over 58,000 victims, including nearly 15,000 fatalities. IEDs were responsible for injuring almost 23,000 people in 2009 and can be employed in multiple ways; a bomb placed inside a maritime container, a car ladened with bombs, and even a suicide bomber strapped with explosives.
"Terrorists and criminal organizations are taking chemicals that are legal commodities and using them to create devastating explosive devices," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton. "This is not just happening to servicemen, this is not just happening to Americans, it is happening to innocent people all over the world. ICE is proud to have proposed this unprecedented effort to the WCO, INTERPOL and the UNODC. By acting together, the world community is sending a resounding message that we deny terrorists and criminals the materials they use to make bombs that kill innocent people."
"Cross-border trade has to be safe and secure from threats that may hinder or damage the global trading system and innocent citizens should be protected from threats that may risk or imperil their lives," said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. "The Customs community stands behind this significant effort to ensure that precursor chemicals are not traded illegally and that they do not fall into the hands of those who have no moral regard for the consequences of their trade or actions," the Secretary General added.
The Special Representative of INTERPOL to the European Union, Mr Pierre Reuland, said that multi-agency collaboration between INTERPOL, WCO and UNODC was vital. He said, this very effective cooperation in a spirit of complementarity and trust has led to considerable results in the fight against organized crime and terrorism in common projects and operations and INTERPOL will continue to strongly support these international efforts with our global network of 188 member states.
"Relevant experiences have been gained in building up international systems of control over precursor chemicals used in illicit drug manufacture, in particular by monitoring individual shipments in international trade in these substances, as facilitated by the International Narcotics Control Board, and through regional operations with the UNODC serving as a platform, such as Operation TARCET, targeting the trafficking of chemicals to Afghanistan through neighbouring countries," said Akira Fujina, Special Advisor to UNODC's Executive Director. "Relevant mechanisms thus established and experiences are available for possible application to detecting diversion of explosive precursors. Tools are also available, including the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme, a capacity building assistance activity, which provides an effective platform for specialized training. The UNODC fully supports this initiative within its areas of competence", Fujina concluded.
Taking chemicals that are legal commodities and using them to create devastating explosive devices is a threat to all nations but with the cooperation of countries from around the world, this global effort will ultimately safe countless lives.