Over 42,000 parcels were checked and hundreds of weapons seized as part of a joint operation targeting the trafficking of firearms to and within the European Union (EU) through post and courier services.
In November, Operation ARMSTRONG VII saw the involvement of police and customs authorities from 26 countries*, with international coordination efforts supported by Europol and the European Commission – DG for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD) and DG Migration and Home Affairs as well as the Customs Cooperation Working Party.
The operation took place in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) and implements the EU action plan on firearms trafficking 2020-2025 adopted by the European Commission in July 2020.
The use of fast parcels or parcel mail has been identified as a key modus operandi for firearms trafficked to and within the EU. Differences in legislation are exploited by criminals, whereby firearms or firearms components restricted in one country, can be ordered easily and openly from another through the internet. Moreover, firearms are frequently traded on online platforms, including dark web marketplaces. This development has resulted in a significant increase in the use of parcel and postal services to traffic firearms and firearm components.
During the action week, police and customs authorities in the participating countries carried out enhanced controls of suspicious parcels and postal shipments. This operational phase was preceded by an intelligence phase in which Europol and DG TAXUD developed risks indicators, including those relating to purchases via the dark web in order to increase the success rates of parcel controls during the action week. Europol has been collecting intelligence from all participating partners on firearms and ammunition seized from postal packages from November 2019 until October 2020.
The week resulted in 42,124 parcels being checked by 416 officers. They found six firearms, 13 firearms parts and 600 pieces of ammunition. All were seized. The operation also detected 297 other weapons, including knives, pepper sprays and tasers, which were also all seized.
Europol set up a virtual command center and provided a platform for real time information sharing and cross-checking of intelligence, creating a communication network involving both police and custom authorities. Information collected and shared during the action days will now be processed and analyzed in a post operational phase during which concerned countries will be duly informed about any relevant outcomes.
With millions and millions of parcels crossing the borders, finding the particular shipments containing firearms and other prohibited items constitutes a sizable challenge for police and customs and other law enforcement authorities across Europe.
The key is knowing what to look for (consignor), where (courier company) and when (at arrival, during customs clearance, etc.) based on emerging new trends. This can only be achieved through active and continuous operation between police and customs and the private industry (post and express courier services).
*Participating countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Albania, North Macedonia, United States.