Two recent Interpol-coordinated operations aimed at disrupting drug trafficking in Africa and the Middle East mobilised law enforcement i" />

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June 22, 2024
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Interpol seizes drugs in Africa, Middle East

Two recent Interpol-coordinated operations aimed at disrupting drug trafficking in Africa and the Middle East mobilised law enforcement in 41 countries to arrest 287 individuals and seize illicit narcotics worth nearly €100m (sh429.3b).

The results of these operations, codenamed Lionfish, provide a snapshot of the international underworld of drug trafficking, with criminals constantly seeking new routes and ways to smuggle narcotics across borders. International drug trafficking is just as globalized as the world’s economy. 

The Lionfish operations, which took place in March and April this year, saw police and customs officials coordinate enforcement actions at borders and other hotspots during a specific two-week period, first on the African continent and then in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 

“The striking results of these two operations demonstrate the sheer scale of the trade in illicit drugs and its international nature,” a statement from Interpol head offices in Lyon, France quoted Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary-General as saying. 

“Drug trafficking is a threat that we collectively face and the massive seizures achieved in Operation Lionfish show what is possible when law enforcement fights back together,” added Stock. 

973 cocaine bricks 

The results of the operations included 17 tonnes of cannabis resin valued at €31m, confiscated from warehouses in Niamey, Niger – the largest seizure in the country’s history. 

Shipped from Lebanon to the Togolese port of Lomé and then transported over 1,000 kilometres by lorry, the drugs were destined for Libya. 

“We are seeing a marked increase in drug traffickers using Libya as a transhipment point, including for drugs from as far as South America,” said Brigadier General Adel Abulkasem Al Sharwy Bentaleb, Head of Libya’s Interpol National Central Bureau. 

Bentaleb added; “While many of these drugs are neither produced nor consumed here, this has not spared us from the violent crime inevitably wrought by such activity, which we are determined to combat alongside Interpol.” 

Meanwhile, the South Africa Police Service seized 973 cocaine bricks, worth an estimated €32 million, from a fishing vessel off the country’s Western coast, arresting 10 individuals. 

“Drug trafficking most often is the causal factors to so much of the violent crimes plaguing our societies,” said General Khehla Sitole, the National Police Commissioner of South Africa. “I don’t believe that there is any country in this world that is immune to drugs and this is what makes our collaborative effort even more critical to overcoming this scourge.” 

Operational results 

 In addition to the above results, the two Lionfish operations recovered: 200 kilogrammes of amphetamines, 56 kilogrammes of heroin, 30 kilogrammes of methamphetamines, 21 kilogrammes of cocaine powder and 169 pieces of crack cocaine. 

They also recovered 214 ecstasy tablets, over 4.5 million tramadol tablets, 720 kilogrammes of cannabis, and 10,000 steroids. Other types of contraband were also seized during the operations, including live pangolins, uncut diamonds, illicit cigarettes and vehicles. 

Crystal meth in sandals 

Operation Lionfish also demonstrated the constantly shifting and opportunistic smuggling methods used by drug traffickers. In South Africa, crystal meth bound for Australia was hidden in sandals and inside sculptures of animals. 

South Africa later requested that Interpol issues a Purple Notice detailing some of these different concealment methods uncovered during the Lionfish operation, sharing this information with law enforcement in 194 countries. 

Interpol Purple Notices are international police alerts issued to seek or provide information on modus operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals. 

Operation Lionfish 

The following countries participated in the two Lionfish operations: Angola, Bahrain, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Operation Lionfish is conducted under the umbrella of Interpol’s Project AMEAP (Africa-Middle East-Asia Pacific) and is supported by funding from the United Arab Emirates and the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World. The operations were also supported by the European Union’s AIRCOP and Crimjust projects.   

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