UN debuts program to stop terrorist travel

UN debuts program to stop terrorist travel

By Luke Vargas   
Flickr photo: Michael Patrick
Flickr photo: Michael Patrick

40,000 ISIS fighters are reportedly trying to return home or travel elsewhere, posing a challenge for countries unfamiliar with fighting terrorism.

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. unveiled a new program Tuesday aimed at helping countries “use travel information to detect, prevent, investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists.”

That program is built on software donated by the Netherlands that uses advance passenger information (API) and passenger name records (PNR) to isolate suspicious behavior out of data already provided to airlines and travel agencies.

A U.N. official explained that in addition to flagging passengers on INTERPOL or other international watch lists, that software can help spot other irregular behavior, like multiple plane tickets being bought by a single third party or a passenger who arrives at one airport with multiple heavy bags only to depart hours later with no bags at all.

The U.N. will be helping to hand out the Dutch software – which is valued at $10 million to $15 million – for free, and countries that sign on to the program will also receive support from various other U.N. agencies dealing with internet technology, drug and crime.

The initiative is geared at countries less accustomed to being on the front lines of the global war of terror such as Sri Lanka, which experienced Islamic State terror attacks on Easter and is one of 15 countries already signed on to the U.N. program.

Jon Lewis is a research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“Look, information sharing in that sense is a useful tool.”

Lewis says that as an estimated 40,000 members of the Islamic State try and return home or travel elsewhere, countries will need to adapt to changing travel behavior from terrorists trying to avoid detection, and that’s something the U.N. program could help them do.

“You have individuals who are attempting to fly into countries neighboring Somalia, individuals who are trying to link up with IS Sinai are flying into North Africa, you see Morocco as kind of a jumping off point where individuals would then attempt to travel through Tunisia, through Libya, to one of those areas. You’re certainly seeing a more diverse palette of attempted areas of travel, which is notable.”

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