The Memo: 8 Apr—14 Apr 2024

The Memo's latest issue summarises significant security news from Apr 8—14, 2024: KL shooting suspect was unlicensed; Balochistan gunmen abducted and killed; Sydney stabbing attacker neutralised; Iranian strike heightened tensions; Chinese crime targets US consumers.

The Memo: 8 Apr—14 Apr 2024

In brief:

  • Suspect in KL airport shooting does not own a valid license.
  • Police neutralised a Sydney mall attacker; no terrorism suspected.
  • Gunmen abducted bus passengers; killed two in Balochistan; evaded capture.
  • Iran's strike on Israel raises regional tensions and concerns.
  • Chinese organised crime targets American consumers through gift card fraud.
  • Turkish police seize large cocaine haul.
  • Global surge in criminal activity underscores urgent need for intervention.

1. Geopolitical security updates and incidents

i. Malaysia

On April 14, Malaysian authorities were actively pursuing a suspect involved in a shooting incident at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 1, stemming from a personal dispute with the perpetrator's wife, who is also his business partner. The victim, a bodyguard, sustained critical injuries, prompting heightened security measures and a nationwide search for the suspect, who is considered armed and dangerous. The incident is being investigated as attempted murder.

Why does it matter? The fact that the suspect does not own a valid gun license raises significant concerns about firearms regulation and enforcement in Malaysia. This underscores potential loopholes or inadequacies in the system aimed at mitigating unauthorised access to firearms. Coupled with the recent scandal involving an Israeli mobster and gun trafficking, this latest incident prompts inquiries into the ease of acquiring illegal firearms and underscores the need for more efficacious strategies to tackle this challenge.

ii. Australia

Police shot and killed an attacker who fatally stabbed six people in a Sydney mall, including five women, before injuring eight others, including a nine-month-old baby on April 13. Authorities do not suspect terrorism. Witnesses described chaotic scenes, with a police officer neutralising the attacker, who appeared to be on a rampage. The 40-year old perpetrator, Joel Cauchi, was previously known to the police but had never been arrested or charged in his home state Queensland.

Why does it matter: While observers may initially attribute this incident to the unpredictability of violent attacks, new information has emerged indicating that Cauchi had exhibited concerning behavioral patterns, including attempts to join gun groups and making a "weird" request to have his knives sharpened. This incident prompts questions regarding the preventability of Cauchi's attacks underscores the persistent focus on Islamist-related incidents, which exacerbates security hindsight at the domestic-level.

iii. Pakistan

Gunmen stopped a bus in Naushki, Balochistan, abducting nine workers from Punjab on April 12. Later, their bodies were found shot at close range. The attackers also fired at a lawmaker's car, killing two passengers. Police suspect Baloch separatists, and launched a full sweep. Despite careful search efforts, the attackers escaped. Despite its resource wealth, Balochistan grapples with insurgency, with militants targeting outsiders and Chinese investments, notably the Gwadar port.

Why does it matter: The latest incident underscores the enduring security challenges in Balochistan, where militants target civilians and infrastructure projects they perceive as exploiting the region's resources without equitable distribution, particularly those linked to Chinese investments. This instability not only increases risks but also undermines economic development efforts and regional stability. Additionally, the incident highlights the ongoing tensions between ethnic Baloch separatists and the Pakistani government, further exacerbating existing grievances.

iv. Iran

Iran's unprecedented salvo on Israel with hundreds of drones and missiles on April 13 has escalated tensions in the region and raised concerns about the potential for further violence. This aggressive action, reportedly in retaliation for the recent Israeli targeting on the Iranian consulate in Syria, has prompted fears of a wider conflict involving other countries. The intercepted attack, which invited condemnations from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, underscores the international implications of the situation. Additionally, the closure of airspace by neighbouring countries such as Jordan and the heightened alert in Syria highlight the regional response to the crisis.

Why does it matter: Iran's strike on Israel, and the subsequent interception of the majority of the drones and missiles, underscores the region's volatility and the potential for widespread conflict. Tensions between Iran and Israel have been mounting for years. While the attack has raised concerns of heightened risk, the situation remains manageable. Iran's use of unmanned capabilities may indicate a reluctance to engage in a major war with Israel. Nevertheless, this latest development could be perceived as a display of brinkmanship between the two nations, underscoring the need for pressure to deescalate tensions and prevent further deterioration.

2. Organised crime watch

i. The US

Federal authorities are investigating Chinese organised crime rings in gift card fraud schemes, raising concerns over the security of American consumers and prompting the launch of "Project Red Hook" by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The initiative aims to combat "card draining," a scheme where thieves use stolen or altered card numbers to siphon off money before the owner can spend it. This marks the first time federal authorities have focused on the role of Chinese organized crime in gift card fraud, dedicating resources to fighting it. The scheme involves removing gift cards from store displays, recording card numbers and PINs, or replacing them with a new barcode. The criminals then return the tampered cards to the store, allowing them to access the card online and steal the balance when a customer loads money onto it. The proceeds from these schemes are believed to fund other illicit activities, such as narcotics and human trafficking.

Why does it matter: This investigation highlights a major threat to American consumers' financial security and the integrity of the retail environment. The involvement of organised crime in gift card fraud schemes poses a substantial risk to the economy, with potentially billions of dollars at stake. Additionally, the proceeds from these fraudulent activities are believed to fund other criminal enterprises, such as narcotics and human trafficking.

ii. Turkey

Turkish police, led by Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, announced the seizure of the third-largest cocaine haul in the country's history. In an operation spanning three provinces, 608kg of liquid cocaine and nearly 830kg of precursor chemicals were confiscated. The operation targeted an international gang allegedly led by a Lebanese-Venezuelan national and resulted in the arrest of four foreign members and nine Turks. This comes amidst concerns that Turkey is becoming a key transit hub for cocaine destined for Europe, with a notable rise in seizures observed between 2021 and 2022.

Why does it matter: The confiscation of a substantial quantity of cocaine in Turkey not only emphasises the nation's growing significance as a transit hub for drug trafficking into Europe but also indicates the presence of highly sophisticated criminal networks operating across borders. This underscores the imperative for bolstered international cooperation and intelligence-sharing to effectively combat such illicit activities.

iii. Southeast Asia

Interpol's secretary-general, Jurgen Stock, highlighted the proliferation of organised crime rings during the pandemic, expanding from Southeast Asia into a global network with an estimated revenue of up to $3 trillion annually. These groups, leveraging online anonymity and new business models, have surged in scale, previously unimaginable. The rise of cyber scam centers, often exploiting trafficked individuals, has exacerbated the human trafficking crisis, with millions of victims worldwide. While drug trafficking remains a significant source of income, criminal groups are diversifying their revenue streams, including trafficking humans, arms, intellectual property, and stolen goods. With illicit proceeds funneling through the global financial system at a rate of $2 trillion to $3 trillion yearly, organized crime groups can amass staggering profits, with some earning up to $50 billion annually.

Why does it matter: The surge in criminal activity, propelled by online anonymity and novel business models, has led to increased victimisation and immense profits for criminal groups. This expansion of organised crime rings into a global network, particularly through cyber scam centers and human trafficking, along with the staggering revenue generated, estimated at up to $3 trillion annually, highlights the scale of the problem and underscores the imperative for concerted international efforts to combat organised crime and protect vulnerable individuals from exploitation.

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