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02 May 2007 - Media release

INTERPOL warns of terrorists using stolen travel documents to evade detection

WASHINGTON – Countries which do not provide their border control officers at airports and other points of entry with direct access to INTERPOL’s database on Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) are leaving their citizens exposed to grave danger. Terrorist use of stolen travel documents represents a gaping hole in global security.

This warning came from INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble during his testimony on 2 May before the United States Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security.

‘The decision therefore by US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to give US Customs and Border Protection officers access to INTERPOL’s database by the end of 2007 is one which should be welcomed as a significant step forward in enhancing border security,’ said Secretary General Noble.

‘Clearly the next step is for all border officers at all airports and other points of entry in all countries around the world to be given access to INTERPOL’s SLTD database, and for the support network to be put in place to ensure that any country registering a hit can immediately receive any necessary follow-up information,’ added Mr Noble.

The use of fraudulent documents by terrorists and other criminals remains one of the most dangerous gaps in global security, with stolen blank passports among the most prized resources for those attempting to enter a country under a false identity.

In 2002, INTERPOL created its SLTD database with just a few thousand entries from a handful of countries. Today, this database contains information on more than 14 million stolen and lost travel documents from 123 countries, including nearly seven million passports. Searches of this database have resulted in the detection of more than 5,000 people attempting to enter countries with travel documents which have been reported lost or stolen.

In January 2007, a border officer at Monterrey airport in Mexico stopped 11 people travelling on Cypriot and Polish passports after becoming suspicious of the reason for their visit. It was subsequently discovered that the group were actually Iraqis who had traveled via Turkey, Greece and Spain with the ultimate goal of illegally entering the US, allegedly to claim asylum, and that eight of them were traveling on passports which were part of a batch of 850 blank passports stolen in Cyprus in 2003 and which were registered in INTERPOL’s SLTD database.

‘Although the border officer in Mexico should be commended for identifying these individuals as suspicious, the following question has to be asked - why, when terrorists and criminals can and will exploit any opportunity given to them, should governments have to rely on luck to protect their borders and ultimately their citizens?’ asked Mr Noble.

‘Had these people provided a better reason for their visit, there is a strong chance they would have gone completely undetected, notwithstanding that their passports were registered as stolen in INTERPOL’s database.’

INTERPOL’s technology enables law enforcement anywhere in the world to instantly run a check against the SLTD database. With one single swipe a border control officer can verify if a document is reported stolen or lost nationally and internationally.