Connecting Europol and Interpol: EU provides more surveillance in Libya

The EU mission EUBAM, which was actually set up to support border management, is building up a counter-terrorism „analysis unit“. This includes equipping it with analytical software.

The European Union wants to support the government in Libya in building up intelligence structures. A Libyan „National Counter-Terrorism Team“ (NCTT) is to set up an „analysis unit“ for this purpose, which will „focus on intelligence gathering and analysis work“. This is what the EU Commission writes in the name of its High Representative and Vice-President, Josep Borrell, in the answer to a parliamentary question by the German MEP Özlem Demirel. The new unit in Libya is then to cooperate „with the international community more effectively“.

However, Libya has been criticised for years for violating basic human rights, for example in the area of migration policy. Refugees who are intercepted on the high seas are put into prisons en masse, where they are mistreated or tortured. In the country, which is repeatedly affected by civil wars, political opposition is also life-threatening. „Dissident voices are suppressed, independent media or activists have to go into exile or risk prison,“ Italian investigative journalist Sara Creta tells after being asked on the situation in Libya.

Under the guise of fighting terrorism, political opponents could also be spied on with the new anti-terror unit. Initially, however, the focus will be on so-called „foreign fighters“ of the Islamic State.

Advice from Europol and authorities from Belgium

In the response, the new unit is called a „fusion cell“. The term means the bringing together of different authorities and departments that collect and then exchange information at national and international level. In the EU, such a „fusion cell“ exists, for example, in the Intelligence Situation Centre (INTCEN) in Brussels. The European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC), which was launched at Europol in 2016, was also supposed to follow the model of a „fusion centre“, but lacked a corresponding mandate to cooperate with secret services.

Nevertheless, Europol advised Libyan authorities on the establishment of a „fusion cell“. This also emerges from the answer. Together with the Belgian „Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis“, Europol gave a presentation on the establishment and operation of a „fusion cell“. This also covered the operation of operational rooms and equipment.

For the improved cooperation of the „Libyan partners“ with agencies and individual EU member states, the EU Police College (CEPOL) has launched a „Counter Terrorism Information Exchange and Criminal Justice Response Project“ (CT INFLOW). It also targets the Libyan „fusion cell“ and aims to contribute with training to prevent and dismantle „terrorist networks“ and the activities of possible „recruiters“. Law enforcement and judicial authorities from Libya are thus to be equipped for cross-border cooperation against „foreign fighters“. Europol is also investigating this together with various military and intelligence agencies.

„Study visit“ to Interpol in Lyon

Further assistance for the Libyan „fusion centre“ comes from the European Union Mission in Support of Integrated Border Management in Libya (EUBAM Libya). The mission has advised the relevant authorities in the Ministry of Interior on the implementation of a „National Counter-Terrorism Strategy“.

The counter-terrorism unit there was also provided with 15 laptops and software „or training and for data processing and analytical work“. What applications are involved, however, remains open.

The intended integration of the Libyan authorities into international, cross-border cooperation is then to take place via Interpol. In March, EUBAM Libya already organised a „study visit“ to the General Secretariat of Interpol in Lyon. There, the Libyan authorities were given an insight into Interpol’s activities and databases. A representative of Interpol’s national central office in Libya was subsequently included in the „National Counter-Terrorism Team“.

Devices for capturing biometric data

Libya is already the target of Interpol’s Sharaka project. It is funded by the EU and targets all five states in North Africa as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Individual border crossings or police authorities will be directly connected to the Interpol databases and will be able to retrieve information stored there.

In October 2020, Libyan authorities have already participated in a test run in Project Sharaka. In the seaport of Khoms, Interpol’s central office in Tripoli, the criminal investigation department, customs „and other security agencies“ conducted a joint operation.

From Interpol, the participants received „remote operational and technical support“ as well as equipment for mobile connection to Interpol databases. Equipment to capture biometric data was also provided. More than 30 Libyan police officers are said to have subsequently checked fingerprints and facial images of suspected crew members of vessels and vehicles. Cross-checks with information at Interpol are said to have uncovered two containers of „illegal substances“.

Libya in crisis

After the repeated cancellation of the planned parliamentary elections, Libya is again in crisis. The government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba, who was appointed to the temporary post in the course of the UN peace process, is sitting in Tripoli. However, Dbaiba is not accepted by the majority in parliament, instead MPs have declared former interior minister Fathi Bashaga as prime minister. This in turn is not recognised by Dbaiba.

„Libya is fragmented, this also affects the security apparatus. Dozens of armed groups are fighting for power and political legitimacy,“ explains journalist Sara Creta. Through freedom of information requests, but also parliamentary enquiries at EU level or in Italy, it has not been possible in the past to track the whereabouts of equipment from the EU. Creta is therefore suing the Italian Ministry of the Interior. „Any EU support must first focus on political stability,“ Creta says.

In the past, the EUBAM Libya mission has already supported the Libyan maritime police, which is under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. At the same time, the military coast guard received training and equipment from the EU military mission in the Mediterranean. Both units consist of different militias and compete with each other. This conflict may have been fuelled by the EU’s support for both parties.

Image: Authorities in Libya are also being assisted in an Interpol project (Interpol).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.

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