European Council renews EU terrorist list

The Council renewed without amendment the “European Union terrorist list”, which includes persons, groups and entities subject to restrictive measures to combat terrorism.

The 13 individuals and 21 groups and entities on the list are subject to the freezing of their funds and other financial assets in the EU. In addition, EU operators are forbidden from providing funds and economic resources to them.

The Council established the list for the first time pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1373/2001, which followed the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It reviews the list at regular intervals and at least every six months, based on information on new events and developments regarding designations.

This sanctions regime is independent of the EU regime implementing UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015). These Resolutions target Al-Qaeda and ISIL/Da’esh and also allow the EU to autonomously apply restrictive measures to ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaeda, as well as associated or supporting persons and entities.

As strongly expressed on all fronts, the fight against terrorism is an EU priority. Member States collaborate to prevent terrorist attacks and ensure the safety of citizens. The EU is working on various aspects, such as the prevention of radicalisation, the EU terrorist list, the exchange of information, the figure of the EU counter-terrorism coordinator, actions against the financing of terrorism, the control of firearms, the digitalisation of judicial cooperation, measures to curb foreign terrorist fighters and cooperation with non-EU countries.

After a series of attacks since 2015, the European Union has been taking various measures to try to put a stop to terrorism.

Although the responsibility for fighting crime and safeguarding security lies primarily with the member states, recent terrorist attacks have shown that this is also a responsibility that requires cooperation and working together. The EU helps protect its citizens by acting as the main forum for cooperation and coordination between Member States.

Although radicalisation is not a new phenomenon, it has become a much more serious threat in recent years.

Online communication has made it easier for terrorists to communicate across borders and has amplified terrorist propaganda and the spread of extremism.

Member States’ competent authorities shall have the power to issue removal orders to service providers requiring them to remove terrorist content or disable access to such content within one hour.

The effective exchange of information between Member States’ police and judicial and intelligence authorities is crucial for fighting terrorism, tracking foreign fighters and taking on organised crime.

Money laundering and terrorist financing are also a major concern for the EU’s financial system and the security of its citizens.


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The model of repression against gangs applied in El Salvador spreads throughout Central America

Today, it can already be said that the “success” of the Government of El Salvador in dismantling the gangs is undeniable. In the same way, there has been a strong almost absolute centralisation of power in the hands of President Nayib Bukele but to the detriment of the rule of law.

The majority of Salvadorans accept this pact and support their president, something that has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the region’s leaders facing their own crises over organised crime. However, some voices have already been raised to prevent various leaders from being tempted to seek the same solution to their problems.

But the truth is that this has already begun to happen. As reported by several media such as Nuso, Hispanidad, El Confidencial or Washingtonpost, the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, also decreed the state of emergency last December to facilitate the fight against the gangs. Ecuador declared four regimes of exception during 2022, militarising prisons and areas with high homicide rates, and Jamaica did the same with the aim of combating an upturn in violence at the hands of various criminal organisations.

A few days ago, El Salvador offered help to Haiti, the poorest country in Latin America and devastated by gangs, to implement its regional control plan. In a region that has struggled for decades to establish an adequate response to organised crime, Bukele’s policies are increasingly attractive. Especially when these security policies have international financing such as that of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), an entity based in Honduras and of which Spain is a member.

For some scholars studying the issue, the end of the gangs in El Salvador could mark the beginning of the era of militarisation and mega-prisons in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the case of El Salvador, the campaign of mass arrests has meant putting 60,000 people behind bars, 1% of the Salvadoran population. Thus, the country has the highest incarceration rate in the world (1,536 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), while drastically reducing the murder rate. In 2022, the rate stood at 8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 105 in 2015.

Currently, gang members who have not been arrested are in disarray, unable to receive orders from headless criminal structures and have a smaller or even non-existent presence in neighbourhoods that were previously under the absolute control of these gangs.

Meanwhile, those who are incarcerated must receive financial support from their families, as they must buy food parcels and basic goods worth $170 a month. The system is simple: relatives cannot bring them anything from outside prison, so they have no choice but to buy these packages.

Beyond the injustices, many warn that the immediate results of the emergency regime hide the tide of problems that may be triggered by this unprecedented wave of arrests and repression. And some experts stress that El Salvador’s history shows that these heavy-handed policies sometimes pay off in the short term but in reality are creating a breeding ground for criminal groups to recycle, recruit more people, and eventually become even stronger.


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A cyber incident affects the FBI network in the United States

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recently been affected by a cyber incident that occurred at one of its most prominent field offices, although it was brought under control in a short period of time.

According to some investigators, this malicious incident affected part of its network used in investigations of child sexual exploitation images.

The FBI sent a brief statement to the media in which it admitted this malicious situation in its network and that it was working to obtain additional information on the origin of the problem. It also stressed that, being an ongoing investigation, the US agency did not offer more details about the circumstances and the origin of the cyber-attack. Eventually, it was understood that information about what kind of attack it was and where it came from would be sought.

Journalist Phil Muncaster told it through the website Infosecurity Magazine, among other platforms. He described the attack on the network and explained that it is not the first time that the US office has been attacked. In 2021, an official email address was compromised and used to spam at least 100,000 recipients. Apparently, an intercepted message cited DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and claimed that recipients were on the receiving end of a major cyber-attack.

The FBI later confirmed that the hackers had taken advantage of an incorrect configuration on a computer system that it used to communicate with state and local law enforcement collaborators: the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP).

Austin Berglas, global head of professional services at BlueVoyant, is a former assistant special agent in charge of the cyber branch of the FBI’s New York office. Berglas explained that investigations into crimes against minors often involve the collection and analysis of digital evidence. Thus, once evidence is obtained or seized by consent or legal process, digital media (mobile phones, computers, and external storage devices) is provided to a member of the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response team (CART): certified special agents and forensic examiners.

All digital evidence is scanned for malware or malicious files before being processed on computers with specialised forensic software used to extract the information contained in the devices. These forensic computers are stand-alone and are not connected to any classified internal system.

This means that even if a new malware variant moves from a seized device to a forensic computer, it would be contained in the examination network.

The potential for this malware to spread and infect other investigative media on the CART network is real, but to preserve the original evidence, forensic examiners produce working copies for analysis and review.


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El Salvador opens the Americas’ largest prison to hold up to 40,000 gang members

The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, inaugurated the Terrorism Confinement Center (CECOT) earlier this year. This mega-prison will detain up to 40,000 inmates, all alleged members of the maras (gangs), with the aim, according to the Salvadoran government, of winning the war against crime.

It was built in only seven months and the real cost of the installation is still unknown. Located in an isolated rural area, it is equipped with the latest advances in technology.

The centre has dining halls, leisure rooms, a gymnasium and ping-pong tables, but only for the guards’ use. For inmates, there are workshop areas for labour tasks. There are also rooms for virtual court hearings, so that inmates do not have to leave the prison. Likewise, there are dark, windowless punishment cells for punishing bad behaviour.

The prison was built with reinforced walls, cells with steel bars on the windows, security cameras, full-body scanners for those entering, seven watchtowers and an 11-meter-high, 2.1-kilometre electrified perimeter wall, which will be guarded day and night by some 600 soldiers and 250 police officers.

The prison was presented as the largest in the Americas, with emphasis put on it being one of the great challenges achieved by the Salvadoran government. In doing so, President Bukele continues his war against the maras, strongly criticized by human rights organisations, which accuse the government of using torture, arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances in the fight against these criminal organisations and has so far left at least 175 people dead in 11 months.

In parallel, the National Civil Police published its statistics from January 2023 with an annual rate of less than 2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, which would make El Salvador the country with the lowest homicide rate in the whole of the Americas. It is worth mentioning that during the state of emergency, which began almost a year ago, more than 60,000 alleged gang members have been arrested.

These government and police actions have led to strong protests from human rights organisations and groups. A report released in late January by the Human Rights Watch explains that large-scale abuse has been committed, including prison overcrowding, lack of guarantees, mass arrests and deaths in police custody.

Among the 60,000 detainees are hundreds of minors who have been prosecuted for broadly defined crimes that violate basic due process guarantees and undermine the justice prospects for victims of gang violence.

One of the critical voices of this offensive against the gangs, the Jesuit rector of the Central American University, Andreu Oliva, considers that with the construction of the new prison the Government is not committed to the rehabilitation of the inmates.

However, Nayib Bukele’s government looks down on human rights organisations and the media, which he accuses of defending gang members.


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Growing concern in Europe over violent online extremism

Last year, on December 15, 2022, the second Referral Action Day (RAD)against violent right-wing extremist and terrorist content online was coordinated by the European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) at Europol. Involved in the coordinated actions were specialised units from 14 countries, 13 of which were EU member states and one a non-EU country.

The operation detected more than 800 related articles on 34 platforms affected by the proliferation of violent extremist content online.

The authorities that participated were involved in identifying and flagging terrorist content to online service providers and evaluating their responses.

The activities led to the referral of 831 items to 34 affected platforms. The materials referred to include content produced by extreme right-wing organisations or others that favour it. It also includes content shared in connection with terrorist attacks motivated by violent extremism. These materials include live broadcasts, manifestos, claims and celebrations of attacks.

This day shows that violent extremism is a growing concern in Europe and elsewhere, especially since the events in Bratislava (Slovakia) and Buffalo (USA).

Since the first Referral Action Day targeting this type of online content was organised in 2021, the threat posed by violent extremism and terrorism continues to grow. The Buffalo and Bratislava terrorist attacks illustrated a worrying proliferation of terrorist and violent right-wing extremist activities worldwide. The perpetrators of these attacks formed part of transnational online communities and were inspired by other violent right-wing extremists and terrorists. In their manifestos, terrorist actors have pointed out the crucial role of online propaganda in the radicalisation process. This shows how internet abuse continues to be an important aspect of radicalisation and violent recruitment of the far right.

RADs strengthen law enforcement efforts to address the creation and dissemination of violent extremist and terrorist propaganda online. During the coordinated activities, participants submit content linked to propaganda material to online service providers, inviting them to assess and remove content that violates their terms of service. Meanwhile, platforms are invited to bolster their moderation protocols to avoid this type of abuse in the future.

The countries participating in this edition were the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Based in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. Europol also works alongside many non-EU partner states and international organisations. Europol has the tools and resources it needs to make Europe a safer space, such as various threat assessments and operational and intelligence-gathering activities.


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Mexican drug cartels operating in the European Union

Mexican cartels are providing drug expertise on European Union territory, specifically on cocaine and methamphetamine, which could lead to an increase in violence and the emergence of fentanyl as potential future threats.

Last December 2022, Europol and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States published a joint analysis report that would show that Mexican criminal groups have worked together with EU criminal networks to boost methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking from South America to the European Union.

This new type of criminal collaboration also extends to the production of cocaine hydrochloride and methamphetamine. Although there are no indications yet of the existence of a fentanyl market in the EU, the discovery of production facilities and the seizure of the substance in the Union raise concerns about the possible emergence of a fentanyl market.

This is the first time that European and U.S. law enforcement authorities have produced a joint document in the fight against global drug trafficking. The report, entitled Complexities and Conveniences in the International Drug Trade: The Involvement of Mexican Criminal Actors in the EU Drug Market, is the result of the ongoing exchange of operational and strategic information between analysts and police officers on both sides of the Atlantic.

As shown by the most recent EU Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment, criminal networks are increasingly international and specialised in scope, with 65% of active criminal groups consisting of members of various nationalities. Also following this trend is the presence of Mexican criminal actors collaborating with EU actors in the European drug market.

The joint report gives detailed explanations of how the criminal networks involved cooperate with each other, especially through the use of specialised actors at different stages of their operations. The various actors include facilitators such as laboratory specialists, envoys, intermediaries and money laundering service providers. Law enforcement has arrested Mexican laboratory specialists, also known as ‘cooks’, who worked in production positions in Europe. Because of their unique knowledge of how to produce higher and more potent yields of the final product and obtain larger and more profitable methamphetamine crystals, these actors are particularly important.

The report also states that Mexican cartels collaborate with EU-based criminal networks to traffic both methamphetamine and cocaine into European ports for distribution or transit to even more lucrative markets in Asia and Oceania. The use of concealed shipments, such as cocaine hidden in cellular thermal concrete blocks, or plans to establish cocaine smuggling routes from Colombia to southern Italian airports with private jets, show the constantly evolving nature of these criminal activities. Corrupt public and private sector officials act as facilitators and help increase the likelihood of successfully trafficking drug shipments to Europe.

On U.S. soil, Mexican cartels have a history of establishing drug trafficking hubs and strong criminal associations, and using violence to gain control of the territory where they operate. An increased presence of Mexican cartels in the EU could also lead to increased profits for them and their criminal collaborators, as well as increased violence in Europe.


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European action against counterfeit medicines and doping substances worth more than 40 million euros

For six months in 2022, Europol coordinated the third edition of Operation Shield, a global initiative to combat trafficking of counterfeit medicines and doping substances. As a consequence of this action, more than 10.5 million medical products were seized, 349 suspects were arrested or reported to the judicial authorities and 10 clandestine laboratories were shut down.

The operation involved police and customs authorities from 28 countries (19 EU member states and 9 non-EU countries). The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) coordinated customs agencies, while the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) provided financial aid. The operation was supported by Frontex, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and national medicine agencies.

Law enforcement officers dismantled 59 criminal groups and arrested or reported 349 suspects to judicial authorities during the operation. In parallel, authorities seized massive quantities of illegal medicines, doping products and substances, food and sports supplements, as well as counterfeit COVID vaccines, healthcare products and medical devices. Doping substances and erectile dysfunction medication were among the most seized items. To increase prevention and awareness, some participating states launched anti-doping campaigns and conducted controls.

The final outcome of Operation Shield was as follows: seizures worth more than 40 million euros, seizure of more than 10.5 million units of medicines and doping substances, seizure of more than 1 million counterfeit COVID tests, 195 investigations carried out, 349 suspects arrested or reported to judicial authorities, 59 organized crime groups investigated, 10 underground laboratories closed, 588 websites monitored, 89 websites shut down, more than 218,000 shipments checked, more than 74,000 shipments seized, 3,526 in-competition anti-doping controls carried out (39 positive) and, finally, 3,245 out-of-competition anti-doping controls carried out (9 positive).

Many cases of large-scale medicine trafficking were revealed during the operation, which confirmed that it can be as lucrative as or even more lucrative than narcotics trafficking. While the aforementioned crimes generate massive illicit profits for traffickers and counterfeiters, the public finances and social care systems of some member states bear the brunt of very high financial costs. The cost to public health is also significant, whether due to the treatment of addictive behaviours or to the consequences of overdoses or shortages.

Although criminal networks are still taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the COVID-19 pandemic, trafficking of medicines and protective equipment has seen a significant decrease due to the high level of attention to the phenomenon and intense monitoring by law enforcement. Governments that offered vaccines free of charge contributed to creating an unfavourable situation for criminals seeking to feed an illegal market. In some cases, several fraud attempts targeting national agencies responsible for the supply of medicines and protective devices could be detected and thwarted.


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Start of negotiations in Europe on the Environmental Crime Directive

The European Council has opened a period of negotiations with the European Parliament on the Environmental Crime Directive with the aim of achieving a legal instrument designed to protect the environment more robustly.

The proposal aims to improve the investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes with a better definition of environmental crimes and with the addition of new typologies. It also harmonises the levels of penalties for individuals and, for the first time, also for legal entities.

Instead of the nine offences currently included in European criminal law, 20 offences are defined in the negotiations, expanding and detailing the scope of prohibited conduct to harm the environment. New crimes include timber trafficking, the main cause of deforestation in some parts of the world, illegal recycling of polluting ship components and serious breaches of chemicals legislation.

With respect to individuals who commit any of the acts covered by this proposal, the following penalties are established:

  • For crimes committed intentionally and causing the death of a person, a minimum prison sentence of ten years.
  • For crimes committed, at least, by gross negligence that cause the death of a person, penalty of at least five years.
  • For all other intentional crimes included in the legislation, a minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment.

In the case of legal entities, the text establishes the following penalties:

  • For the most serious offences, a maximum fine of at least 5% of the total turnover at the level of the legal entity, or EUR 40 million.
  • For all other offences, a maximum fine starting at 3% of the total worldwide turnover of the legal entity, or EUR 24 million.

Other additional measures may also be adopted, such as the obligation for the offender to restore the environment or compensate for damages, their exclusion from access to public funding or the withdrawal of permits or authorisations.

In addition, the text incorporates the need to provide training for those working to detect, investigate and prosecute environmental crime and to provide these services with sufficient resources.

It also contains provisions on aid and assistance to persons who report environmental crimes, to environmental defenders and to persons affected by this type of crime.


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June 2022 survey and crime data for England and Wales: sex offences and knife use on the rise

Crime patterns in recent years have been substantially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions on social contact.

Of all the data studied, those from the Crime Survey for England and Wales are based on nine months of data collection between October 2021 and June 2022. These figures show that total crime is down by 8% from 2020. According to these estimates, adults over the age of 16 experienced 9.4 million crimes, mainly due to a 19% decrease in robberies.

Fraud offences increased significantly during the pandemic and now everything suggests that they are slowly declining to levels below the COVID outbreak.

Police-recorded crime data give an idea of the lower volume but greater harm crimes that the survey does not cover or capture well. In this vein, police figures indicate a drop in robberies of 23%, firearms-related crimes of 10% and homicides of 5%. However, law enforcement figures indicate that it is still too early to tell whether the data represent a change in long-term trends.

Police-recorded sexual offences have increased by 21% compared to the year prior to the pandemic, as they decreased significantly during this period of restricted social contact. This increase to 196,889 crimes is the highest annual figure ever recorded in England and Wales. Of all crimes of a sexual nature recorded by the police, in the period up to June 2022, 36% (70,600) were rape crimes. This is an increase of more than 20% compared to 59,046 in March 2020. The rest of the sexual crimes increased to 126,289 offences.

In terms of homicides, there is a 5% decrease from 716 offences up to March 2020 to 679 in 2022. Of these 679 cases, 38% involved the use of a bladed weapon.

The 8% increase in knife or sharps crime is mainly due to three specific police areas: the Metropolitan, which has seen an increase from 10,605 to 11,232 offences; the West Midlands, from 3,299 cases to 4,958; and Greater Manchester, which has seen an increase from 3,297 to 3,563 offences. In line with these figures, police in England and Wales reported 9% more possession of bladed weapons, rising from 23,242 in March 2020 to 25,287 in June 2022. As specified, this may be caused by the increase in certain police actions to combat knife crime.

Regarding the use of firearms, the police recorded 5,976 crimes in the period up to June 2022. This represents a 10% decrease compared to the 2020 period.


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Beware of scams! The time has come for a lot of online shopping

A coordinated operation against e-commerce fraud has resulted in the arrest of 59 suspected fraudsters and the activation of new investigative leads across Europe, as part of the eCommerce Action 2022 (eComm 2022).

The month-long operation (1-31 October 2022) involved 19 countries that have been fighting criminal networks that use stolen credit card information to order high-value products from online stores.

The action was coordinated by the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) of Europol and the Merchant Risk Council and received the direct assistance of merchants, logistics companies, banks and payment card systems.

Although online payments are generally very secure, especially thanks to secure customer authentication methods widely implemented in Europe, criminals are continually altering their techniques to find new ways to steal money.

The eComm 2022 findings have identified the following key threats to the eCommerce sector:

Phishing fraud, vishing and smishing: stolen credit card numbers are often obtained through phishing/vishing/smishing attacks whereby criminals contact people by phone, text message, messaging apps or email and try to convince them to hand over their credit card information. Sometimes these attacks promise a reward, and other times they impersonate a trusted company or government agency.

Account takeover fraud: this fraud occurs when a criminal gains access to a user’s account in an e-commerce store. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, such as purchasing stolen passwords, security codes or personal information on the dark web or successfully implementing a phishing scheme against a particular customer. Once they have gained access to a user’s account, criminals can engage in fraudulent activity. For example, they can change a user’s account details, make purchases in e-commerce stores, withdraw funds and even access other accounts of this user.

Triangulation fraud: this type of fraud occurs when online criminals set up a fake or replica website and lure buyers with cheap products. Sometimes these fake sites may appear in advertisements or are sent to a user’s email address directing them to the site via an attempt to carry out a phishing attack. The problem is that these goods, in reality, do not exist or, of course, are never shipped.

Through an awareness campaign, European law enforcement has teamed up with Europol and the Merchant Risk Council to share practical advice on how to fend off criminals attempting to abuse the online shopping experience.

The objective of the campaign is to make e-commerce more secure by promoting secure online purchasing methods and helping new merchants to open their online store without the risk of cyber-attacks.

Participating countries and partners are promoting the campaign through their social media channels using the hashtag #SellSafe to help merchants understand the risks of e-commerce fraud.


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