A joint firearms operation between Interpol and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) resulted in the seizure of some 350 weapons, 3,300 rounds of ammunition, and record drug hauls across the Caribbean. An operational hub was hosted by CARICOM IMPACS in Barbados – officials with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Joint Regional Communications Center (JRCC), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and other law enforcement partners worked side-by-side to provide real-time assistance during the effort.
Operation Trigger VII, which took place Sept. 24 – 30, saw officers from 19 countries coordinate controls at airports, seaports, land border, and inland hotspots, acting on intelligence pointing to organized crime groups and individuals involved in firearms trafficking. Officials searched warehouses, inspected packages, and carried out targeted checks at firearms dealerships, shooting ranges, and private security companies.
Law enforcement made 510 arrests during the week-long operation, including the subject of an Interpol Red Notice wanted for murder. Trigger VII actions also led to the seizure of 10.1 tons of cocaine and 2.5 tons of cannabis, highlighting the convergence of trafficking routes and the use of firearms used to control the illegal drug trade.
“The successful outcomes of this operation are a direct result of the steadfast efforts and partnerships of global law enforcement officials who seek to prevent firearms, ammunition, and drugs from falling into the hands of transnational criminal organizations that pose a legitimate threat to public safety worldwide,” said Patrick McElwain, Assistant Director of HSI International Operations. “HSI will continue to collaborate with partners to investigate and take down individuals and organizations involved in illegal arms and drug trafficking.”
Pistols and bullets hidden in cereal boxes
When customs authorities in Dominica X-rayed a suspicious package, they sent information to the operational hub for checks on the sender and intended recipient. HSI and ATF officers placed the package under surveillance after querying respective databases and finding multiple firearms purchases. When the recipient came to collect the shipment, authorities discovered 20 pistols and multiple rounds of ammunition hidden in cereal boxes. Investigations are continuing both in the United States and Dominica.
HSI and the Royal Bahamas Police Force worked closely on an international controlled delivery from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Nassau, Bahamas. The package, which had been flagged in the U.S., was monitored throughout its shipment to seize two firearms, and arrest the recipient.
Several emerging trends were identified throughout the operation. In St. Kitts and Nevis, for example, officers saw their first seizure of firearms assembled using ‘80%’ pistol frames. Also known as ghost guns, these weapons are unsterilized and untraceable as they are often completed at home using specialized kits, allowing individuals to bypass gun laws and checks.
Record drug seizures
Authorities in Jamaica, with support from U.S. partners, made a record-setting bust when they intercepted 500.2 kilograms of cocaine – worth approximately $25 million USD – about to be loaded onto a private jet bound for Canada. In a separate case, law enforcement also seized 500 kilograms of cannabis.
In Curaçao, the Coast Guard interdicted vessels carrying a total of 3 tons of cocaine and 1.8 tons of cannabis. Authorities made 17 arrests in connection with the shipments, believed to have originated in Venezuela. Authorities in Bonaire made similar interceptions of cocaine enroute from Venezuela, seizing nearly 4 tons.
Several countries reported reverse trafficking routes, an increasing trend, with seizures of cannabis coming from Canada and the United States into the Caribbean region. Cannabis plants, forged U.S. currency, stolen vehicles and vessels, contraband cigarettes and alcohol were also seized during the operation.
“The results of Operation Trigger VII show how firearms are clear enablers of most types of crime. When we go after their weapons, we also go after the full range of activities carried out by organized crime groups,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
“The results also highlight the power of what law enforcement bodies can achieve when we work in a joint, coordinated manner, sharing information in real-time on cross-border investigations,” Stock added.
Lt. Col. Michael Jones, Executive Director of CARICOM IMPACS, said: “Without this cohesive action among agencies, our region will not be able to effectively tackle illicit trafficking and by extension, transnational organized crime.”
Operation Trigger VII allowed authorities to gain a better understanding of existing threats, patterns, trends, and smuggling channels within the region, hence ultimately saving lives. I am indeed proud of the role CARICOM IMPACS played in the exercise and more so of its role as a coordination hub,” concluded Jones.
Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol’s Executive Director of Police Services, highlighted that the operation was the first joint effort between Interpol and CARICOM IMPACS against firearms and would likely yield results for months to come as investigations continue.
The operation was carried out under the framework of Interpol’s Project Target, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.
Participating countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France (Guadeloupe and Martinique), Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.