Spain, supported by Europol, coordinated Europe-wide joint action days targeting facilitation of illegal immigration, drug trafficking and trafficking of firearms, writes Europol.
The operation took place between 15 and 18 September 2021. The operational activities involving 27 countries (17 EU Member States and 10 non-EU countries) were also supported by Eurojust, Frontex, INTERPOL and other international organisation.* The operational activities took place mainly in Southeast Europe, while other countries from across Europe participated by sharing intelligence and conducting operational actions at the national level. The actions, involving almost 11 000 officers on the ground, led to 330 arrests related to different crimes including drug trafficking, the facilitation of illegal immigration, document fraud and the trafficking of firearms.
The investigated activities also led to the detection of a number of offences related to the facilitation of illegal immigration and related crimes and legal violations such as visa fraud. Following the concerted actions, law enforcement authorities initiated 37 new investigations. The Western Balkans region is a key hub for the trafficking of firearms into the EU.
Multi-national criminal groups source the weapons predominantly from countries form the Western Balkans, where human resources with expertise in firearms are widely available. The firearms are then trafficked to the EU, mainly to Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
The illegal trade in weapons is closely connected to the trafficking of drugs, specifically to cocaine trafficking. In some cases, criminal networks exchange weapons for drugs.
They also use the weapons to gain and maintain control over the lucrative drugs markets. Weapons traffickers offer high quantities and a wide range of firearms, including old and new military grade weapons. Some of the firearms are converted blank-firing weapons, imported from Turkey.
Weapons are often smuggled as part of multi-commodity shipments or hidden in vehicles. Their prices in the Western Balkan are currently on the rise, though they are still a lot cheaper than in Western Europe. Europol supported the coordination of the action days and facilitated the exchange of information between the participating countries.
During the course of the operation, Europol set up an operational centre to enable the swift exchange of operational information between the participants and provide live analytical support to field operatives. During the action week, Europol also deployed two experts to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to facilitate the real-time exchange of communication between the participating authorities. .
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