The Memo: 22 Apr—28 Apr 2024

The Memo from Apr 22—28, 2024: Australian teen arrests and UK's Terrorgram designation underscore rising challenges in policing youth radicalisation and online extremism. South Korea and Spain grapple with young gangsters and judicial flaws, as a UK case pioneers in cyber-crime prosecution.

The Memo: 22 Apr—28 Apr 2024

In brief:

  • Australian teen arrests highlight youth radicalisation and online content policing challenges.
  • UK designates Terrorgram as terrorist group, highlighting online extremism threats.
  • South Korea sees shift in crime with younger gangsters' rise.
  • Drug lord's escape exposes flaws in Spain's justice system.
  • Landmark UK case sets precedent in cyber-enabled crime fight.

1. Geopolitical security updates and incidents

i. Australia

An Australian counterterrorism team arrested seven teenagers for their involvement in the April 15 attack on Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel during a live-streamed service. Five teens were charged, with offenses ranging from possessing extremist material online to planning a terrorist attack; one also faced charges for carrying a knife in public. Following this, an alliance of leading Islamic groups in Australia has called for changes to the country's terrorism laws, advocating for the removal of the term "religiously motivated terrorism" from the legislation. Additionally, tensions escalated between Australian authorities and Elon Musk's social media company X, which resisted orders to remove videos of the attack, leading to a public dispute over censorship and global content control.

Why it matters: The arrest of seven teenagers involved in a religiously-motivated attack on a church leader highlights the ongoing issue of youth susceptibility to ideologies that promote political violence. This incident underscores concerns expressed by Australia's Muslim communities about the need to avoid simplistic attributions that unfairly target specific groups. This case also highlights the challenges that authorities face in policing online content and issuing takedown notices against global tech companies that refuse to adhere to local laws aimed at ensuring public safety.

ii. United Kingdom

Britain's Home Office has officially designated the Terrorgram collective as a terrorist organisation. The UK Home Office categorises this group as an online network of neo-fascists responsible for producing and disseminating violent propaganda against ethnic and religious minorities. This marks the first instance of an online network receiving such a designation, placing Terrorgram in the same category as groups like Hamas and ISIS. While Islamist-inspired terrorism continues to pose the largest terror threat to Britain, the Home Office notes that the threat from extreme right-wing ideology is both growing and evolving.

Why it matters: This marks the first time an online network has been categorised alongside "traditional" terrorist groups, reflecting a significant policy shift to address the growing threat of extreme right-wing ideologies. The move is anticipated to enhance national security by providing legal tools to disrupt these operations and also raise public awareness about the dangers of such ideologies and sets a potential precedent for international policy on combating online extremism.

2. Organised crime watch

i. South Korea

South Korean police have intensified their crackdown on organised crime, arresting 1,183 members of crime rings from August to December, with the majority being Gen Z or millennials, according to the National Police Agency. According to reports, 888 of those arrested were under 30, known as "MZ gangsters." There is a shift in criminal activities among the younger criminals, with a rise in online gambling, scams, and fraud. Nearly 40% of the charges involved sophisticated business-type illegal activities like running online gambling sites, while over 21% related to extortion and violence, involving the MZ generation. The Organized Crime Index notes that while traditional mafia-style groups have diminished since the 1990s, foreign syndicates from China, Japan, and Russia remain influential in South Korea's criminal landscape.

Why it matters: The shift in the demographic profile of organised crime in South Korea, characterised by significant involvement from Gen Z and millennials, highlights a critical evolution towards digital criminal activities such as online gambling and fraud. This trend indicates that younger members are more profit-driven compared to the faction-based groups of the past, necessitating a strategic reevaluation of law enforcement approaches. To effectively adapt to this changing landscape, there is a need for an emphasis on preventive measures targeting youth and the integration of advanced technological tools into policing strategies.

ii. Spain

Justice officials in Spain have accidentally released a billionaire Dutch drug lord, Karim Bouyakhrichan, due to a bureaucratic error. Bouyakhrichan, allegedly a leader of the Mocro Maffia and involved in large-scale cocaine trafficking and money laundering, was arrested in Marbella in January but released amid confusion over a Dutch extradition request and subsequently vanished. Despite the blunder, Spanish authorities and Justice Minister Félix Bolaños remain optimistic about recapturing him. Bouyakhrichan, also known as Taxi, had been on Interpol's most-wanted list and his arrest had initially quelled a power struggle within the criminal underworld. After his accidental release, he managed to evade authorities by complying with court appearances until disappearing on April 1.

Why it matters: The accidental release underscores vulnerabilities within Spain's judicial and bureaucratic systems. This incident not only exposes gaps in international extradition processes but also highlights the challenges in handling high-profile criminal cases effectively. The escape of a major organised crime leader potentially hampers ongoing efforts to combat extensive cocaine trafficking networks and money laundering operations across Europe.

Cybercrime and security

i. United Kingdom

Bedfordshire Police announced that they are the first in the country to secure convictions against individuals who supplied encrypted devices to facilitate drug and firearm trafficking. Three men from Luton, Jason Russo, Jamil Ahmed, and Mohammed Miah, were sentenced at Luton Crown Court for providing EncroChat messaging systems to organised crime groups across the UK. Russo received a five-year prison term, while Ahmed and Miah were given 18-month community orders.

Why it matters: The conviction of three men in Bedfordshire for supplying encrypted devices to criminal networks marks a critical development in the fight against cyber-enabled crimes. This landmark case sets a legal precedent for future prosecutions of those facilitating serious crimes such as drug and firearm trafficking through advanced technologies.

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