Putting an end to the illicit weapons trade in West Africa


A regional law enforcement operation against firearms trafficking in West Africa led to arrests and seizures in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.

Codenamed “KAFO” and jointly co-ordinated by Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the cross-border operation targeted people and networks behind firearms trafficking in the region and beyond.

Involving 110 officers from police, customs, border and prosecution services from all three countries, the seven-day operation last November saw law enforcement intercept illicit firearms and make connections with associated criminal activity, including terrorism.

In addition to arrests, initial results included identification of a trafficking network operating regionally from Côte d’Ivoire, the seizure in Burkina Faso of illicit goods clearly linked to serious organised crime and confiscation in Mali of tampered visas smuggled from Burkina Faso by bus, also suggesting an organised crime connection according to Interpol.

Further arrests and prosecutions are foreseen in the three countries as investigations continue.
By collecting investigative crime intelligence ahead of the operation, countries were able to target firearms trafficking hotspots including land border points where cars, buses, trucks and cargo transporters were searched.

Several firearms recovered in Burkina Faso and Mali were traced back to the countries of manufacture or last known legal import to track ownership history.
This type of action, coupled with comparison of ballistics evidence such as recovered cartridge casings and bullets, enables investigators to link different crimes, criminals and countries.

Interpol’s Firearms Programme staff ensured frontline officers had permanent access to the organisation’s criminal databases, enabling them to determine if suspects were using stolen travel documents, were known to police in any of Interpol’s 194 member countries, or were travelling in stolen vehicles. Thousands of checks were made against Interpol databases during the operation.
Côte d’Ivoire gave its national commission for control of small arms and light weapons access to Interpol’s iARMS (illicit Arms Records and tracing Management System) so it could screen seized weapons against millions of lost, stolen, trafficked and smuggled firearm records and share sensitive and urgent police information with counterparts globally.

Commissions of this type exist in every ECOWAS country to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit firearms trade and raise regional awareness to discourage the trade.

“Operation KAFO demonstrated pooling the global expertise of our respective organisations in the field, UNODC and Interpol can make sure borders hinder criminals while uniting law enforcement and making the world a safer place,” Assistant Director of Forensics and Police Data Management Cyril Gout, in charge of Interpol’s global firearms programme, said.

“Operational co-operative action between the organisations benefits global law enforcement and justice as it allows us to tackle regional firearms trafficking and practices leading to prosecution which disrupts criminal networks behind trafficking flows,” said UNODC’s Global Firearms Programme Head, Simonetta Grassi.

Pre-operational training delivered by Interpol and UNODC ensured officers had the skills required to use Interpol’s operational capabilities to their full potential and detect firearms trafficking in key strategic locations, particularly border crossings.

Participants also saw how Interpol’s iARMS and Firearms Reference Table (IFRT) capabilities enable identification and investigation of firearms trafficking in the field.

Trainees included experts from national commissions for the control of small arms and light weapons, gendarmerie, criminal investigations police and INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus (NCB) from all three target countries.

The operation ended with a debriefing meeting in Bamako to evaluate results and define the way forward for continued support in the fight against illicit firearms trafficking, including follow-up action for investigations resulting from the operation.