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UNODC Roundtable: Responding to potential emerging maritime threat from IS in the Indian Ocean 

Nairobi, 11 May 2020 - More than 40 senior Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) officials from the Western Indian Ocean region have attended a virtual seminar conducted by UNODC to discuss recent terrorist attacks and identify the need for enhanced security measures. 

Maritime terrorism incidents in March and April in the Indian Ocean region provide a strong indication that groups affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS) are targeting MLE vessels and personnel at vulnerable ports and piers. 

On Monday 23 March, individuals identifying themselves as IS fighters attacked the strategic Mozambican port town of Mocimboa da Praia by both land and sea. 

According to media reports, the insurgents attacked five army and police barracks and destroyed port and military facilities. IS claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. 

On Wednesday 15 April, suspected IS affiliates used incendiary devices to target an MLE vessel at the pier on Mahibadhoo Island in the Alifu Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives. 

The attack reportedly destroyed a police boat, ambulance boat, Atoll Council boat and two other speedboats, all of which were docked at the same pier. In its weekly propaganda newsletter, Al Naba, IS was quick to claim responsibility for the maritime terrorist attack. 

Many MLE agencies in the Indian Ocean, including Coast Guard services, marine police and other regulatory agencies dock vessels at public ports or piers with only limited security. 

The speed with which IS claimed responsibility for both the Maldives and Mozambique attacks indicates that targeting such vessels may be a new modus operandi promoted by IS-affiliated groups. It is also possible that copycat attacks may follow, and therefore important for MLE agencies to review security measures for personnel and vessels at vulnerable ports and piers. 

In response, a WebEx seminar held on 7 May was UNODC’s initiative to raise awareness of these maritime terrorism incidents in Mozambique and the Maldives. 

The virtual Roundtable meeting targeted senior representatives from the Western Indian Ocean MLE agencies in Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania and the two regional centres: Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre in Madagascar and Regional Coordination Operations Centre in Seychelles. 

The discussion was chaired by UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) Programme Officer, Mr David O’Connell, who is a former Marine Officer and certified as meeting the training standards established by the International Maritime Organization and US Coast Guard as a Port Facility Security and Ship Security Officer. 

Mr O’Connell provided a brief on the two recent terrorist attacks and ideas on best practices for safeguarding MLE assets at vulnerable docks and piers. 

By the end of the seminar, participants were made aware that: 

  • IS continues to maintain an active presence in multiple regions bordering the Indian Ocean;
  • Criminal and terrorist organizations will try exploit gaps in MLE resourcing and operational capability created by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak; and
  • Successful attacks could encourage extremist groups to carry out similar attacks in other portions of the Indian Ocean.

 Based on these points, MLE agencies need to start operating on the basis that further attacks could be in the planning stages. The discussion also highlighted the need for revision of security procedures and mitigation measures currently in place at vulnerable ports and piers. 

UNODC was praised by participants for bringing such an important topic to the table.