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03 June 2015

INTERPOL meeting in Spain encourages information sharing on foreign fighters

BARCELONA, Spain – Comprehensive, global information sharing is key to stemming the tide of individuals traveling to conflict zones, INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock told a meeting of counter-terrorism experts.

Addressing an INTERPOL working group meeting on foreign terrorist fighters in Barcelona, Secretary General Stock applauded the progress made in recent months in exchanging data on foreign fighters, but said more information still needs to be shared via INTERPOL.

At the end of 2014, 1,000 profiles of foreign fighters were recorded in INTERPOL’s databases. That figure has increased to 4,000 profiles just six months later, demonstrating a growing understanding by member countries of the importance of sharing information to counter this threat.

“While information is increasingly crossing borders, it is still doing so at a much slower pace than foreign terrorist fighters. A gap still exists between the number of FTFs we have identified, and those estimated to have reached conflict zones,” said Secretary General Stock.

The Head of INTERPOL pointed to a case from 2014, when a suspect was apprehended on his way to Syria, due to the decision of Belgium to issue an international alert through INTERPOL, and the actions taken by Lebanese officials on the ground based on this shared intelligence.

The three-day (3 –5 June) meeting, co-hosted by the Spanish National Police and the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Madrid, has brought together some 150 counter-terrorism experts from 42 countries and three international organizations. The gathering will enable investigators to directly exchange best practices and information in relation to the global threat posed by travel to and from conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and, increasingly, Libya.

Topics to be discussed during the meeting include gathering intelligence on foreign fighters from social media, identifying and disrupting travel facilitation networks, the involvement of returning foreign fighters in further criminal activity.

Spain’s Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, highlighted the growing danger posed by foreign fighters returning to their home countries, where they often play a role in the radicalization and recruitment of additional foreign fighters, or carry out further attacks.

“International cooperation is vital and necessary to combat the phenomenon of returning combatants, at the regional and global levels. In this respect, the leadership role of INTERPOL is critical to fighting this phenomenon,” said Minister Fernandez Diaz.

INTERPOL Secretary General Stock has addressed the United Nations several times on the issue of foreign fighters and the urgent need for a wider exchange of data, most recently during a high-level UN Security Council Ministerial briefing on foreign terrorist fighters in May.