The Hague, Netherlands (AP) – Criminal gangs have announced plans to transfer drug shipments and carry out murders on a secretly operated messaging app run by the FBI, law enforcement said Tuesday when they unveiled a global stabbing operation which, according to officials, was an “unprecedented blow” to them. against organized crime in countries around the world.
The operation known as Trojan Shield led to police raids in 16 countries. More than 800 suspects have been arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs – including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines – have been seized, along with 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars and more than 148 million dollars in cash and cryptocurrencies. .
The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement previously took down two encrypted platforms, EncroChat and Sky ECC, which had been used by criminal gangs to organize drug trafficking and underworld attacks. With the gangs on the market for a new medium, the FBI stepped in with a covertly developed app called ANOM that was installed on modified cell phones. Over the past 18 months, the FBI has supplied phones to more than 300 bands operating in more than 100 countries through unsuspecting intermediaries.
The information collected and analyzed “allowed us to prevent the murders. It led to drug seizures which led to arms seizures. And it helped prevent a number of crimes, ”Calvin Shivers, deputy director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, said at a press conference in The Hague, the Netherlands.
The operation – led by the FBI with the involvement of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the European Union Police Station Europol and law enforcement agencies in several countries – dealt “an unprecedented blow to the criminal networks, and this is worldwide “, according to the National Police. . Police Chief Jannine van den Berg.
Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hearst called it “a turning point in the history of global law enforcement.”
The ANOM app became popular in criminal circles because users were telling each other that it was a safe platform. All the while, the police watched criminals’ backs as they discussed shots, drug shipments and other crimes.
“There was a vacuum created by the lack of these encrypted platforms,” Shivers said of the first move to remove apps previously used by gangs. “So this created an opportunity for collaboration with our international partners, not only to develop the specific tool, but also to develop the intelligence gathering and intelligence dissemination process.”
Law enforcement officials from Sweden to New Zealand described the operation as having a significant impact.
Swedish police have prevented a dozen planned killings and believe they have arrested several “major players in criminal networks,” according to a statement by Linda Staaf, head of the Swedish national criminal intelligence unit.
Finnish police said on Tuesday that nearly 100 people were arrested and more than 500 kilograms (half a ton) of drugs seized, along with dozens of weapons and cash worth hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars). In Germany, the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said more than 70 people were arrested on Monday and that drugs, money and weapons were also seized.
In Australia, authorities said they had arrested 224 people and seized more than four tons of drugs and $ 35 million. New Zealand police said they had arrested 35 people and seized drugs and assets worth millions of dollars.
“Today, as part of a global operation, the Australian government dealt a severe blow to organized crime,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. “Not only in this country, but in a country that will affect organized crime all over the world”.
European police dealt a severe blow to organized crime last year after breaching an encrypted communications network known as EncroChat, used by criminal gangs across the continent.
In March, Belgian police arrested dozens of people after breaking into another encrypted chat system and seizing more than 17 tons of cocaine.
The latest operation went even further.
“The success of the Trojan Shield operation is the result of tremendous innovation, dedication and unprecedented international collaboration,” said Shivers. “And the results are amazing.”
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.
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