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12 March 2014

Transnational threat of foreign fighters requires global response, INTERPOL Chief tells Baghdad conference

Secretary General meets with Iraqi Prime Minister at anti-terror meeting

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The transnational threat of foreign fighters targeting Iraq and other countries is a global shared responsibility, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble has told the International Solidarity to Fight Terrorism Conference in Baghdad.

During his first mission to Iraq, the INTERPOL Chief said that with the increasing number of suicide and car bombings, there is enough evidence to suggest that those targeting cities in Iraq are foreign fighters coming from across the globe ‒ America, Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Secretary General Noble also met with Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki on the sidelines of the conference, as well as Head of the Iraqi Police Lieutenant General Muwafaq Abdul Hadi Tawfeeq and Major General Mohsen Hadi Hamoudi, head of INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau Baghdad.

In his address to the international event, Mr Noble pointed to INTERPOL’s experience in addressing the threat of foreign fighters via INTERPOL’s Project Vennlig. Created in 2006, the project’s focus is to collect evidence of terrorist activity within the Iraq conflict zone, and to identify, investigate and interdict foreign fighters.

“Through Vennlig, thousands of pieces of information and high quality identifiers collected in the field were shared with law enforcement, intelligence and defence agencies in more than 60 countries,” said Secretary General Noble.

“These exchanges led to the unmasking of a financer in Italy supporting future plans to launch terrorist attacks on Iraqi soil; they dismantled a network of Tunisian facilitators connected to Al-Qaeda, and provided assistance in identifying and locating the 2003 Istanbul bombers,” added the INTERPOL Chief.

In written remarks submitted to the conference, Mr Noble warned that with foreign fighters returning to their country of origin, a trend which is likely to increase over time, a percentage of them are likely to encourage and attracting new recruits, creating a bridge between the old and new generations of terrorists and suicide bombers.

This is why in 2013, the INTERPOL Counter Terrorism Fusion Centre established a new project focusing on the movement of foreign fighters to other conflict zones. During the past 12 months, INTERPOL has collected information pertaining to the identities of more than 500 foreign fighter suspects and their motivations for fighting in conflict zones.

“As we look forward, what we face may be even more challenging, which is why the time to act is now,” said Secretary General Noble.

“INTERPOL will continue to facilitate exchanges between our member countries to compile and compare information and identifiers of suspected foreign fighters, but this must be complemented by efforts on the ground,” added Mr Noble, pointing to the need for law enforcement and border officers to have access to information including INTERPOL-United Nations Security Council Special Notices for individuals and entities linked to Al-Qaeda and sanctioned by the UN.

The INTERPOL Chief said the world police body is working to ensure authorities everywhere use INTERPOL’s databases to their fullest potential to  identify threats, such as stolen motor vehicles.

“Ten years ago yesterday we were reminded of the link between stolen vehicles and terrorism, a concern not only for Iraq, but all countries” he said, referring to the use of three vehicles to transport explosives to commuter trains in Madrid, Spain which on 11 March 2004, took the lives of 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 others.

In addition to Project Vennlig, in 2008 INTERPOL created Project Hamah focusing on the Afghanistan combat zone. Under the umbrella of its Fusion Task Force and its six regional projects, similar initiatives on foreign fighters in Bosnia, Libya and Somalia, have also been launched, however the focus remains on Syria and Iraq.