The International Police (INTERPOL) says several suspected terrorists have been arrested and weapons, ammunition and contraband fuel seized in a joint operation with the United Nations across the Sahel.
It said more than 40,000 sticks of dynamite and detonator cords – used for illegal gold mining – were also taken.
Interpol said illegal gold mining is a new source of funding for armed groups in the region, as well as a recruitment ground.
A UN statement, on Monday, said the week-long 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.
“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.
More than 260 officers from police, customs and other national services in the four countries participated in the joint operation, which was conducted from 30 November to 6 December and focused on airports, seaports and land borders.
The statement said 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.”
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 fuel 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.
The statement said meanwhile, the scores of contraband hand sanitizer gel containers, gloves and drugs seized during the operation indicated the market for these items was flourishing, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said ahead of the operation, partners provided the officers with skills training, including 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.