Khaleel Yousfani, Additional Collector.
Throughout the recent years the world has become a witness to increasing incidents of the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) beyond the conflict zones.
IEDs are the most prevalent form of explosives employed by terrorists around the world particularly because the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture them are cheap and widely available. It is a cheap and easy way to inflict harm on infrastructures, economies, and populations.
In a unique initiative to secure global supply chains and enhance public safety, to provide “a secure business environment for economic development” the World Customs Organization (WCO) has partnered with INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and launched Program Global Shield. This Programme aims at preventing smuggling and illicit diversion of precursor chemicals that could be used to build IEDs.
It is a multilateral operation to monitor the licit movements of explosive precursor chemical shipments to identify and combat the illicit cross-border diversion and trafficking of those chemicals in the international supply chain.
The program was started in November 2010 as a 6-months project, however, the achievements and importance of Program Global Shield led the WCO to endorse it as a long-term endeavor.
Customs administrations from more than 90 countries are now sharing information on 14 precursor chemicals used for manufacturing of IEDs. Through this unprecedented effort of the international community, the threat posed by these dangerous precursor chemicals is now being seriously addressed.
Along with training, technical assistance, real-time information and intelligence sharing that Program Global Shield entails, its participants and partners are now better equipped to interdict the illicit diversion of these precursor chemicals.
The overall objectives of Program Global Shield are to promote cooperation among Customs and Police administrations in combating the illicit diversion of precursor chemicals; raise global awareness of the increased threat posed by precursor chemicals; engage with private industry players to establish best practice programs to avoid illicit diversion of precursor chemicals; train Customs officers in the detection/handling of precursor chemicals; identify and seize illicit shipments of precursor chemicals and communicate these seizures to other program participants; initiate investigations and other enforcement activities regarding illicit shipments (backtracking investigations); identify and share best practices to combat the illicit diversion and trafficking of precursor chemicals used to manufacture explosives; monitor and track legitimate shipments of precursor chemicals to identify the patterns, diversity, and extent of licit international trade; and facilitate legitimate trade in precursor chemicals through risk-based targeting.
Precursor chemicals to IEDs: Precursor chemicals come in many forms and have a wide variety of uses. They are generally legal to purchase, store and use. They include any chemical compound or element that can be converted to an explosive compound through a chemical reaction or series of reactions. Many precursor chemicals are used in our everyday lives.
Following Chemicals are identified by the WCO as precursor chemicals for manufacturing the IEDs: Acetic Anhydride, Acetone, Aluminum Powder, Ammonium Nitrate, Calcium Ammonium Nitrate, Hydrogen Peroxide, Nitric Acid, Nitromethane, Potassium Chlorate, Potassium Nitrate, Potassium Perchlorate, Sodium Chlorate, Sodium Nitrate and Urea.
Based on studies by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineers, the Institute of Medicine, and Attack the Network, these precursor chemicals were adopted as the key ingredients that were the most common threat in the use of manufactured IEDs.
IED Protection: The best protection against an IED attack is prevention. Customs officer has to be vigilant in his duties to protect citizens and its entrusted facilities. All shipments of precursor chemicals should be monitored and an effective end user verification procedure should be adopted to prevent diversion of such shipments to terrorists.
Failure to implement this monitoring mechanism may lead to terrorist attacks, which will jeopardize the international trade and put the economic development in peril. As in the words of Secretary General WCO, KUNIO Mikuriya, “Cross-border trade has to be safe and secure from threats that may hinder or damage the global trading system and innocent civilian lives should be protected from threats that may risk or imperil their lives.” The conclusion is that IEDs not only threaten lives, they threaten trade.