WCO Members committed to enhance the global fight against IED threat

27 January 2021

On 25 January 2021, the World Customs Organization held a global conference to reinforce its Programme Global Shield (PGS), an unprecedented international effort to monitor licit movement of chemicals and counter the illicit diversion of chemical precursors and detonators used by terrorists and other criminal organizations to manufacture Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).

More than 205 representatives of WCO Members, partner organizations (DTRA, EU, EUROPOL, INTERPOL, UN) as well as WCO donors attended the one-day event, conducted virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the establishment of Programme Global Shield we are able to counter the continuous threat, IEDs and the illicit trafficking of dual-use precursor chemicals pose to citizens and governments,” said WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya. He added that “this Programme needs to remain a priority on the WCO agenda and for its Members as Customs is the only frontline agency capable and responsible to monitor cross-border movements of all goods, and consequently has to play a prominent role in detecting this threat in cooperation with other agencies and international organizations, taking adequate measures.”

During the past few years, the world has become witness to increasing incidents involving the use of IEDs and other homemade explosive devices manufactured from precursor chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, Acetone or Urea. IEDs are inexpensive and easily manufactured, concealed, and detonated to intimidate, inflict casualties, and destabilize governments.  Thus, they are the most prevalent form of explosives used by terrorists around the world.

In addition to the terrorist threat posed by trade in explosive precursor chemicals, the explosion of multiple tons of degraded ammonium nitrate in a Customs warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon, in August 2020, highlighted the safety threat posed by the often poorly regulated supply chain for explosive precursor chemicals, along with lax governmental control.

WCO`s Programme Global Shield at its core is a Programme to control, secure and monitor the supply chain for these goods. Spearheaded by the WCO, the programme is implemented in partnership with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and builds capacity while fostering police-customs cooperation and organizing regional operations.

Launched in November 2010 and funded by the US as a global project, the achievements and importance of Programme Global Shield led the WCO to endorse it as a long-term endeavour. In the meantime, the United Nations also recognized Programme Global Shield and encouraged all countries to participate in and support it.

In the course of the conference, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and INTERPOL gave an overview on current IED and terrorist threat at global level. The WCO provided an overview on current PGS deliverables, past regional PGS Projects in West-, Central and East Africa as well as in South East Asia and Pacific region.

Heads of Customs and other Member representatives from Bangladesh, Kenya and Mali made presentations and commended the WCO’s support provided through their regional PGS projects and funded by Japan.

Lebanon customs gave an insight on the ammonium nitrate explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4th 2020 and highlighted the importance for customs to be sensitized on safety and security regulations for all kinds of precursor chemicals.

Discussions also focused on Member’s needs and how WCO could support best to secure the global supply chain. The participants identified, among others, PGS trainings, detection material, enhanced information exchange and better use of the secure communication platform as priorities.  There was a general consensus for the Programme Global Shield to be maintained and enhanced at global level.

As a way forward, the WCO Secretariat introduced a Note on dangerous goods as well as an ambitious PGS project proposal (PGS GLOBAL) to reinforce PGS, including among other global operational exercise, the establishment of a permanent and comprehensive analysis, specialized detection- as well as enhanced safety and security trainings.

The WCO called upon its Members to support the project proposal and assist in looking for potential funding. The Conference participants appreciated the conduct of this first global PGS conference and the information provided by the Secretariat and the Stakeholders. They expressed their willingness to share respective information and to contribute to a closer cooperation among agencies and stakeholders.