BAGHDAD: The Greek police are investigating whether criminal gangs are running guns from Albania through Greece to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, while Cypriot authorities are trying to prevent would-be jihad fighters from going through that country to join the terrorists, officials said.
While authorities work to devise a strategy to deal with the threat, concerns have mounted that Greece and Cyprus have become key transit points for getting weapons and recruits to ISIL.
The probe began following the arrest of eight members of a suspected weapons racket near Durres on the Albanian coast, and reports in Albanian media indicate Greece is on the smuggling route for Syria-bound arms.
Albanian police raided a hideout in the town of Shijak that led to the arrest of the eight suspects, 18 to 44-years-old.
Police seized a large cache of weapons including six Kalashnikov assault rifles, a Skorpion submachine gun, six pistols, five hand grenades, two rifles and 12,000 rounds of ammunition.
“There is definitely arms contraband from the Balkans going to the Middle East and North Africa for jihad fighters amongst others. It is mostly done via commercial vessels belonging to fictional companies and various intermediaries,” Ioannis Michaletos, a terrorism expert for the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis, told SETimes.
One alleged member of the racket, identified by the police as Clirim X, has been convicted in Greece for armed robbery. Police suspect him to be the group’s key member.
Experts said Greece has been stretched thin in its attempts to cover its borders and sea routes suspected of being channels for supplying arms and recruits to ISIL. The country is also dealing with waves of illegal immigrants, many of them refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a serious problem protecting the Greek sea and land borders from the flow of illegal immigrants because there is no substantial intelligence sharing between EU member states, said John Nomikos, an American-trained specialist in terrorism and director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) in Athens.
“To keep an illegal immigrant from turning to be a sleeping cell, obtain fake EU passport and travel (via the Schengen area) unobstructed to another EU country is a challenge for the Greek law enforcement agencies,” Nomikos told SETimes.
Nomikos also said Greek and Balkan police need to address transnational organised crime groups raising funds to support terrorist networks and ammunition transfer to ISIL.
“Greek law enforcement and the intelligence community need to be on alert and promote intelligence sharing with friendly neighbouring states such as Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania in order to confront radicalisation and extremism in their land,” he said.
“There needs to be a technological upgrade of the safety systems in the Greek entry points and more training of personnel so they can monitor these kinds of trafficking. Also international co-operation plays a big role and should be further enhanced.”
In Cyprus, officials have expressed concern that would-be jihadists are using the island to get to ISIL and join its cause.
Lebanese officials warned after talks with Cypriot European Parliament member Ioannis Kasoulides that the island could be used “as a European country for foreign fighters to move from Europe toward the Middle East,” but also vice versa.