SINGAPORE – Enhancing cooperation between law enforcement agencies against terror suspects and criminals travelling across Southeast Asia was the focus of a border operation conducted as part of INTERPOL’s Project Sunbird.
Operation Sunbird III (28 March to 5 April) involved police, immigration and maritime authorities from all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries screening passports at 35 land, air and sea border points against INTERPOL’s global databases.
Some eight million searches were conducted during the operation, resulting in 17 arrests and 110 ‘hits’ on passports recorded in INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database.
Among the arrests were a suspected foreign terrorist fighter of Malaysian nationality who was deported to Kuala Lumpur from Turkey, and a Sri Lankan national intercepted by Indonesian immigration in Bali travelling on a stolen blank Italian passport registered in the SLTD database who is suspected of purchasing the passport in Kuala Lumpur from a criminal organization.
In this respect, the Deputy Director of the Criminal Investigations Department, Royal Malaysian Police, Azham Othman, underlined ‘the role of the operation in tracking the movement of terror suspects’.
Funded by the Government of Canada, Operation Sunbird III was conducted under the umbrella of INTERPOL’s Capacity Building and Training unit and Integrated Border Management Task Force, in cooperation with ASEAN countries, ASEANAPOL and the United Nations.
The operation was the first major activity of Project Sunbird, the second phase of a multi-year programme to develop the counter-terrorism skills of law enforcement in the region. The first phase, which concluded in March, saw key actors from law enforcement, border and immigration agencies, forensic experts, investigators and national decision-makers undertake specialized training on forensic techniques, counter-terrorism investigative skills and INTERPOL’s data sharing mechanisms.
The High Commissioner of Canada to Singapore, Nancy Lynn McDonald, said: “This project builds upon previous Canada-INTERPOL partnerships focusing on intelligence gathering and criminal analysis in Southeast Asia. With the use of new and emerging technologies by terrorists for the purposes of recruitment, radicalization and training, such as the use of social media, it is even more incumbent upon the law enforcement community to work collaboratively to address these threats.”
With Project Sunbird facilitating secure information sharing among participating ASEAN countries on foreign terrorist fighters believed to be traveling in Southeast Asia – a major security challenge in the region – one of the project’s priorities is to ensure that police have the necessary policing capabilities, competencies and mechanisms to effectively prevent and investigate crime.
In this respect, INTERPOL’s Director of Capacity Building and Training, Harold O’ Connell, said: “The purpose of Operation Sunbird III is to improve cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the field by equipping their officers with the necessary skills and knowledge needed to combat the ever-evolving threats arising from terrorism. The expansion of training initiatives into operational exercises is at the heart of INTERPOL’s capacity building ethos.”
The 10 ASEAN countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.