Report on the EU terrorism situation in 2019

363.- baixaEuropol recently published a report on the state of terrorism in the European Union. The report outlines trends and includes data on the attempts, attacks and arrests of alleged terrorists during 2019 in the EU.

As a consequence of these terrorist activities:

  • A total of 119 attacks, both foiled and completed, were reported by 13 EU Member States.
  • 1,004 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 19 EU Member States.
  • The countries with the highest numbers of arrests were Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.
  • Ten people died, and 27 were injured as a result of terrorist attacks in the EU in 2019. Almost all were victims of jihadist attacks, although this type of terrorism continues its downward trend.
  • The situation in conflict areas outside Europe continued to impact the jihadist terrorism situation in Europe.

In 2019, several incidences of funding the return of foreign terrorist fighters were observed, although funding for terrorist groups outside Europe decreased in comparison to previous years.

The report focuses on right-wing extremist terrorist attacks, which increased last year, rising from one in 2018 to six in 2019. It highlights the fact that the attacks in Christchurch (New Zealand), Poway (USA), El Paso (USA), Baerum (Norway) and Halle (Germany) were part of a wave of violent incidents around the world, the perpetrators of which were part of similar transnational online communities and took inspiration from one another.

It goes on to explain that violent far-right extremists maintain international links through a range of events, such as concerts for example.

Left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks reached the level of 2016 and 2017 after a decrease in 2018. All the attacks took place in Greece, Italy or Spain. Arrests for alleged extreme left-wing terrorist activity increased significantly; in 2018 there were 34 while in 2019 they tripled to 111, mainly due to arrests in Italy. These groups used readily available materials to make explosives.

The use of firearms and explosives remained prevalent in separatist terrorist attacks and violent attacks inspired by far-right ideologies.

Measures adopted by social media platforms to combat the spread of terrorist propaganda led some groups to return to traditional online communication methods. Suspects detained for terrorist propaganda in Europe sometimes had a long history of involvement in jihadist activities.

There is little evidence to suggest the existence of a formal, systematic link between organised crime and terrorism in the EU. Despite this, there are indications of certain transactions between low-level criminals and extremists, who often overlap socially in marginalised areas.


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El Salvador continues its precarious battle against the gangs

362.- baixaIn the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, images of thousands of gang members stacked together by the government of El Salvador were broadcast around the world.

The country continues to be entrenched in its own war against gang members, especially those from the Mara Salvatrucha and 18 gangs. According to Osiris Luna, Deputy Minister of Security and the Director of Prisons, the State’s decision to integrate and confine members of the different criminal structures to the same cells is intended to create a shock effect among the gangs.

For two decades, incumbent governments have resorted to the prisons in an effort to give the appearance of winning the battle against gang violence. Let’s not forget that, according to official estimates, there are an estimated 60,000 active gang members in a country of fewer than 7 million people.

Furthermore, in 2018, the prisons reported that 44% of the prison population were understood to belong to a gang, accounting for about 17,400 of the 39,300 people being held in the country’s jails.

Previously, the penitentiary system segregated the members of rival gangs, assigning exclusive prisons to each group.

The initiative, seen by the gangs as a victory over the system, was successful in curtailing the number of riots and murders occurring inside prisons. However, it also served to consolidate the power and internal organisation of the criminal structures.

In 2016, the previous government took the first steps towards changing the system, but under the Bukele Administration, the reforms have been accelerated.

The potential consequences of the new prison policies are unpredictable. But it should also be understood that gangs like Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 are formed by a conglomerate of programs and cliques with operational autonomy and, although a general command does exist, they do not always follow the same orders. In fact, there have been bloody disputes between members of the same gang. Nowadays, in El Salvador, talking about the MS-13 gang as a single homogeneous entity is somewhat misleading.

The other big gang, known as Barrio 18, also suffered internal conflicts in the middle of the last decade and split into two halves: the Sureños and the Revolucionarios.

Other smaller gangs include La Mirada, Locos 13 and Mao-Mao, which currently have about 300 of their active members imprisoned.

Another front to highlight is the so-called retirees; gang members who have left MS-13 or 18, mainly due to internal conflicts.

Although they are no longer considered to be gang members, there are around 3,000 of them in El Salvador’s prisons. And in 2004, they were allocated an exclusive prison facility in the city of Sonsonate.


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A Comprehensive Public Security System in Buenos Aires

361.- baixaSince 2017, the city of Buenos Aires has been operating its Comprehensive Public Security System. The exhaustive plan covers a range of initiatives, including training for the new City Police Force, improving social integration, citizen participation, etc.

The Comprehensive Public Security System coordinates more than 32,000 agents who operate in a unified way from their positions in the City Police, the fire service, emergency departments, the emergency medical care system (SAME), civil protection, etc. Of these 32,000 agents, 24,869 are officers of the City Police, which is the result of a merger between the Metropolitan Police Force and the Argentine Federal Police.

Furthermore, 1,000 civilians were recruited to cover administrative tasks in police stations, a move which allowed the same number of police officers to return to the streets. These police officers work under a new territorial deployment plan, with a system of fixed stops and police patrols based on software that integrates population density, the flow of people and the crime map.

The Comprehensive Public Security System uses innovative technologies across the board:

  • 25,000 mobile phones have been supplied to agents. At the same time, agents are prohibited from using private phones or other devices to avoid distractions.
  • The mobiles are equipped with GPS to geolocate and systematically record the routes travelled by emergency vehicles.
  • A “digital ring” controls 73 of the city’s entry and exit points with cameras that read the license plates of all vehicles entering and leaving the city’s perimeter.
  • Gender violence is addressed with panic buttons and “safe women” wristbands.
  • A comprehensive video surveillance system monitors all the city’s cameras. Currently, there are more than 10,000 cameras installed on the streets and 4,000 within the transport system. Of the cameras installed on the streets, 300 are equipped with facial recognition to identify fugitives from the justice system.
  • Calls are received through a centralised reception system with a dedicated 911 room and a single coordination and control centre.
  • Analytical methods are used to combat crime; the crime map, for example, is used to collect, process and analyse criminal behaviour in the city.
  • Citizens can report crimes through a single reporting system operated through videoconference booths located at all police stations.


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The impact of COVID-19 on European drug markets

360.- baixaThe European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol published an analysis of EU drug markets towards the end of 2019.

At that time, no one could have predicted the dramatic changes that COVID-19 would bring, nor the extent to which it has affected our daily lives. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on drug markets. There is a critical need to understand the extent and nature of this impact to identify any areas that might require further investigation.

The objective of this analysis of EU drug markets is to increase understanding of ongoing developments and their impact on the internal security and public health of the EU in order to inform European institutions and partners in the EU Member States. This is of vital importance for formulating effective responses.

Global restrictions on travel and other measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a temporary disruptive impact on the drug market, leading to shortages of and higher prices for some drugs. Other consequences include:

  • The disruption to the supply chain and logistics of drug trafficking in Europe is most evident at the distribution level, because of social distancing measures.
  • The movement of bulk quantities of drugs between EU Member States has continued despite the introduction of border controls due to the continued commercial transportation of goods throughout the EU.
  • In relation to cocaine, in particular, there is little evidence of disruption to activity at the wholesale importation level; however, experts in some countries report increasing prices and decreasing purity at the consumer level, indicative of localised supply shortages.
  • Organised crime groups remain resilient and are adapting their modi operandi to the current situation, further exploiting secure communication channels and adapting transportation models, trafficking routes and concealment methods.
  • The current instability has led to an increasingly volatile environment for criminal businesses along the supply chain in Europe and appears to have resulted in increased levels of violence among mid-level distributors.
  • Home deliveries, less face-to-face dealing and less reliance on cash as a form of payment seem to be increasing for individual transactions.
  • Shortages of cannabis resin have led to inflated retail prices.
  • Heroin trafficking continues to exist on many of the known routes. The availability of heroin has decreased in some areas, but this varies depending on national confinement rules and restrictions on movement, with higher prices also reported in some places.
  • Cocaine trafficking using maritime shipping containers has continued at levels comparable to or even possibly higher than those seen in 2019.

Synthetic drug production continues in the main European producing zones in the Netherlands and Belgium, as evidenced by the number of illicit laboratories dismantled. However, in Europe and globally, the demand for synthetic drugs used in recreational settings, in particular MDMA, seems to have diminished in the short term due to the closure of venues and cancellation of festivals.


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The number of prisoners in the United States decreased in 2018

359.- imagesDuring 2018, the total prison population in the USA declined from 1,489,200 to 1,465,200, a decrease of 24,000 prisoners, accounting for a 1.6% reduction. The number of male prisoners fell by 1.7%, to 1,354,313, while the number of female prisoners fell by 0.5%, to 110,845.

In 2018, the combined state and federal imprisonment rate was 431 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 US residents. This was the lowest ratio since 1996, which recorded 427 prisoners per 100,000 resident citizens.

During the last decade, the ratio has decreased by 15%, from 506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 US residents in 2008 to 431 per 100,000 in 2018.

With regard to the imprisonment data for different ethnic groups, from 2008 to 2018, the imprisonment rate fell by 28% among black residents, 21% among Hispanics and 13% among whites. In 2018, the imprisonment rate of black residents was the lowest since 1989. It’s important to note that, in 2018, the imprisonment rate of black males was 5.8 times that of white males, while the imprisonment rate of black females was 1.8 times the rate of white females.

At year-end 2018, a total of 22 states had imprisonment rates that were higher than the nationwide average. The state with the highest rate was Louisiana, with 695 per 100,000 state residents, followed by Oklahoma, with 693 per 100,000, and Mississippi, with 626 per 100,000 inhabitants. On the other hand, states such as Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont had less than 200 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents.

Among the total number of prisoners held in the US in 2018, 7.7% of them were non-US citizens, a similar figure to the 6.9% of non-US citizens present in the country according to the US Census Bureau. With regard to age, more than 3% of prisoners were over 64 years old.

It’s worth noting that among the military prisoners who had served in the US Air force or the US Navy, almost 75% were in prison for a sexual offence. And 45% of those were serving time for a violent sexual offence.

In relation to reasons for imprisonment and ethnicity, 61% of the black and Hispanic prison communities and 48% of the white prison community were serving time for a violent offence. Concurrently, 23% of sentenced white prisoners are serving time for crimes against property, while among Hispanic and black inmates, the figure is 13%. Around 15% of prisoners are serving time for public health disorders –4% for possession–, with percentages ranging from 13% of black prisoners to 16% of whites.

Lastly, 67% of prison admissions in 2018 came from new court commitments, while 30% were due to post-custody supervision violations. The remaining 3% can be attributed to other causes, such as readmissions.


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Women and organised crime in Latin America

358.- baixaOrganised crime is one of the main problems faced by Latin America. This, according to the “Women in Organised Crime in Latin America: Beyond Victims and Victimisers” report commissioned by the Colombian Organised Crime Observatory.

Among its disruptive effects, the high levels of violence seen across the region are especially alarming. Since the 1990s, the opening-up of economies, in combination with the institutional weakness of the states and other social factors such as poverty and inequality, have favoured the growth of transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and migrant smuggling. As a result, Latin America has become the region with the fastest-growing criminal dynamics in the world.

Men have always been dominant in the different illegal economies, and a tendency to see criminal activities as a “man’s activity” has prevailed. Female participation in organised crime has largely been overlooked by academic analysis and public debate.

Due to the scarcity of information and data, investigations into this topic are limited although they have increased in the last decade. The relative invisibility of women in debates about organised crime stems from the general perception that they are appendices to male criminals, typically partners or sexual objects. Stereotypes of women as being dependent and weak reinforce the notion that they are incapable of making independent decisions regarding their participation in illegal activities.

Female participation in organised crime structures is not uniform. The diverse roles that women play in criminal economies allow us to characterise different types of participation forming a spectrum, which ranges from subordinates and victims to protagonists, leaders and perpetrators.

Despite the scarce systematic empirical evidence about the participation of women in organised crime, this investigation allows us to make some recommendations focused on prevention and attention for affected communities:

  • Strengthen statistical information systems related to organised crime and the participation of women in diverse criminal acts, both as victims and perpetrators.
  • Build strategies which account for the varied nature of the participation of women in organised crime economies.
  • Understand the factors that drive women to participate in illegal acts for preventive purposes.
  • Map out the multiple and varied roles women play in organised crime, including their role in other illegal economies like contraband and extortion.
  • Promote the empowerment of women, through collective initiatives which seek to give opportunities to those at risk of being recruited by organised crime.
  • Strengthen cooperation mechanisms, designed to help the victims of organised crime, between local, regional and national governments across Latin America.
  • Urge Latin American police and judicial bodies to apply a gender approach to their investigations.
  • Seek effective collaboration between social, economic and educational policy institutions to reorient those women specialised in certain roles within criminal economies towards legality.


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Be careful with your mobile phone SIM

357.- baixaHow do criminals steal thousands of euros by hijacking mobile phone numbers? It’s a common story: the signal bars disappear from your mobile phone, and people call your phone number, but it doesn’t ring. You try to login to your bank account, but the password fails. You have become the newest victim of SIM swap fraud, and your phone number is now in the control of a criminal.

SIM swap fraud is committed when a fraudster dupes the victim’s mobile phone operator into porting the victim’s mobile number to a SIM in their possession. The fraudster then starts receiving any incoming calls and text messages, including the one-time banking passwords which are sent to the victim’s phone number.

The fraudster can then perform transactions, using information gathered through techniques like malware, and when the bank sends a one-time-password via SMS, the criminal receives it and completes the authorisation for the transaction.

Several law enforcement agencies in Europe -Austria, Spain and Romania- have carried out operations against this common denominator, considered by the authorities to be a growing threat. In Spain, the state authorities working in conjunction with Europol and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), arrested a group of 12 individuals who had managed to steal amounts of up to €137,000 from the bank accounts of several victims. The suspects were of Italian, Romanian, Colombian and Spanish nationality.

The modus operandi was simple, yet effective. The criminals managed to obtain victims’ online banking credentials with different banks by employing hacking techniques like banking trojans or other types of malware.

If you don’t want to be the next victim, here are some measures you can to take to protect yourself:

  • Keep your devices’ software up to date.
  • Do not click on links or download attachments that come with unexpected emails.
  • Do not reply to suspicious emails.
  • Limit the amount of personal data you share online.
  • Try to use two-factor authentication for your online services, rather than having an authentication code sent over SMS.
  • When possible, do not associate your phone number with sensitive online accounts.
  • Set up your own PIN to restrict access to the SIM card. Do not share this PIN with anyone.

If your phone loses reception suddenly for nor apparent reason:

  • Report the situation to your service provider.
  • If there are suspicious transactions in your bank account, contact the bank.
  • Immediately change all the passwords for your online accounts.
  • Keep all evidence, in case you need to contact the police.


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A complex situation in Argentine prisons

356.- baixaTo talk about the Argentine penitentiary system is to enter into an incredibly complex universe, but the latest official statistics for January 2019 reveal a grim reality: 103,000 inmates held in 308 prisons.

 Overcrowding is the crucial trait and the foremost cause for concern in Argentine prisons. The upward trend has been particularly steep since 2007, far-exceeding the crime rate. The crime rate currently stands at one-third of the incarceration rate.

The growth in the prison population can be attributed to multiple factors: a tightening of criminal law, the repressive narrative of official speeches, social injustices, the influence of the media, etc.

Furthermore, almost half of the 103,000 inmates are being held on remand, without a trial to determine their guilt. Another determining factor is the indiscriminate imprisonment decreed on a daily basis by judges, and a failure to release people who would be eligible for a regime other than the penitentiary system.

Overpopulated prisons lead to overcrowding, outbreaks of violence among prisoners and between prisoners and prison officials, wear and tear on facilities as a result of intensive use, and increasing difficulties in accessing basic and essential rights – food, healthcare, education, etc. It goes without saying that the more inmates there are, the more difficult it becomes to access the system’s scarce resources.

However, there are also significant signs of change on the horizon. First and foremost, openness and transparency. Twenty years ago, prisons were completely closed off from the rest of the world. Nowadays their hallways are frequently inhabited by people from the free world and all kinds of organisations who visit the establishments to offer multiple services: cultural, educational, employment, religious, sports, etc. Both good and bad aspects of prison life waste no time in reaching public opinion.

With regards to employment, slowly, some self-management entrepreneurship is beginning to emerge, where people deprived of their liberty have started to market their products outside of the prison walls.

But it’s tough to access these rights in the context of confinement, and these tentative initiatives do not make up for the harsh reality of life in the Argentine penitentiary system. That said, they’re also hard to access outside of prison.

The role of prison officers also deserves a mention. A job founded on a tragic history of abuse and violence is currently experiencing a generational shift among officers, and the progressive incorporation of women in a historically male-dominated environment.


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The number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by nearly 150%

355.- baixaThe new research from ENACT [1] is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the illicit African drug trade, consumption patterns and African drug policy.

According to ENACT’s studies on transnational organised crime, ineffective drug policy, fuelled by corruption and organised crime, are exacerbating an expanding drug crisis in Africa.

African consumption of illegal drugs, including non-medical use of prescription opioids, threatens national development and is projected to become a public health emergency.

Sub-Saharan Africa will see the world’s biggest surge in illicit drug users in the next 30 years, with its share of global drug consumption projected to double.

Prisons are overcrowded, and generations of young people are disenfranchised by criminal convictions for low-level drug crimes. Continental drug markets continue to expand even as illicit crops are destroyed, drug labs dismantled, and drug shipments seized.

Drugs have become a revenue source for terrorist organisations and crime syndicates, but African law enforcement bodies lack the institutional, technological and financial capacities to have a significant impact on drug trafficking markets.

Researchers estimate that the number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by nearly 150% in the next three decades. They forecast that by 2050 there will be an additional 14 million Africans using illegal drugs, with a total of 23 million users in sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa’s role has expanded as a global trafficking hub for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, and an illegal economy has developed around the production and distribution of methamphetamines.

Africa’s dangerous drugs phenomenon contributes to the growing global production of cocaine and heroin, which, according to the 2018 World Drug Report, are at the highest levels ever recorded. Other stimulants of the surging trade and consumption of drugs include urbanisation, development of infrastructure and transport routes, a fast-growing youth population, and challenging social and economic circumstances for millions of people.

The researchers made a number of recommendations to African Union policymakers. Effective pan-African responses to the crisis must include efforts to reduce production and trafficking of drugs, coupled with demand reduction and expanded healthcare for the treatment and care of drug users.

All regions should bolster their cross-border law enforcement responses to curb the supply and production of illicit drugs, targeting traffickers rather than users. The diversion of pharmaceutical opioids from legal channels also needs to be curbed.

[1] ENACT is funded by the European Union. The project builds knowledge and skills to enhance Africa’s response to transnational organised crime. It analyses how organised crime affects stability, governance, the rule of law and development in Africa, and works to mitigate its impact. ENACT is implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL, in affiliation with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.


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