Interpol Urges Collection, Sharing of Biometric Data to Fight Terrorism

Anton Muhajir
Nusa Dua, Indonesia
161110_ID_Interpol_1000.jpg Indonesian National Police Chief Karnavian and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi address reporters after the closing of the 85th Interpol General Assembly in Nusa Dua, Bali, Nov. 10, 2016.
Anton Muhajir/BenarNews

Security officials from 164 countries agreed at a meeting in Indonesia to boost efforts to gather and share biometric data to help catch foreign terrorist fighters who cross borders using false names and travel documents.

The resolution was adopted at the 85th General Assembly of the international police organization Interpol that closed Thursday after a four-day meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali.

It urged countries to consider “the systematic collection and recording” of DNA and fingerprints of suspects or convicted individuals following counter-terrorism actions.

The recommendation covered individuals who travel to conflict zones to support or join terrorist groups; people recently deported or incarcerated for terrorism-related offenses; and returnees from conflict zones “assessed as posing a high risk of cross-border mobility and reoffending,” the resolution said.

According to Interpol, some 15,000 foreign terrorist fighters in the Middle East could pose a threat back home through joining radical groups or carrying out terror acts after returning from abroad.

Interpol has files on some 9,000 of these individuals but fewer than 900 of them contain biometric data or high resolution images that could be used for facial recognition, an Interpol statement said.

“The proliferation of aliases, the complexity of fake travel documents, deception tactics falsely declaring individuals have died in the conflict zones, and even basic issues linked to transliteration present mounting challenges to law enforcement in the field,” the statement said, referring to different spelling of names in different languages.

“Although information shared via Interpol has enabled national law enforcement agencies to prevent numerous terrorists and aspiring foreign terrorist fighters from traveling, the lack of biometric data remains a weak link,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said.

Interpol member-countries are not exchanging much biometric data on terrorists, he added.

“Governments should take a closer look at the reasons why they cannot or will not share biometric data on terrorists when it is clear that doing so greatly increases the chances of foiling potentially lethal attacks committed by returning fighters,” he said.

He pointed to a case where biometric data helped identify a detainee in Mali as a suspect wanted in Algeria. His fingerprints were also found at the scene of an attack claimed by al-Qaeda on the Grand Bassam resort in Ivory Coast in March that killed 16.

A lack of technology

Interpol already has a tool to counter cross-border movement of foreign terrorist fighters: its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database, which enables immigration and law enforcement agencies to ensure the validity of travel documents within seconds.

The database has more than 68 million entries from 174 member countries. From January to September, it was searched more than 1.2 million times, yielding 115,000 positive matches.

But some Interpol member countries lack the technology to create their own databases or share such information with others.

“There has been strengthening cooperation in the field of operational capabilities to fight terrorism. But for the exchange of biometric data, not all countries have the infrastructure readiness,” Johanes Agus Mulyono, executive director of ASEANPOL, told BenarNews. ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Sutep Dechrugsa, head of the Thai delegation to the Interpol assembly, claimed that his country was not facing as great a threat from cross-border terrorism as other ASEAN nations including the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“We are not afraid of terrorism. We are not afraid,” he told BenarNews. Thailand already collects DNA samples of suspected insurgents in its Deep South region, where an insurgency has raged for more than a decade, claiming some 6,700 lives since 2004.

No borders

In a closing speech to the Interpol assembly, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi underlined the importance of global cooperation in fighting terrorism.

“Terrorism has no religion. They are not friends of any religion. In a situation that has no borders, no single country can deal with this common enemy alone,” she told some 830 participants from 164 countries.

Officials in both Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia for many months have warned of a threat of the extremist group Islamic State (IS) recruiting young citizens to its ranks via social media, and of IS veterans carrying out terror plots on home soil after returning from the Middle East.

“Therefore, there is no question, we need stronger cooperation.  Our partnership must go beyond traditional boundaries more concretely and strategically to counter this threat.”


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