Barbados’ illegal gun problem is in no way unique, says regional security expert Francis Forbes, who has revealed figures showing that the large number of illegal firearms on the streets is a Caribbean-wide trend.
The Executive Director of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) said recent seizures of large weapon caches, new technology guns, and citizens trained in advanced terrorism tactics present unnatural hazards that add to threats to the well-being of Caribbean citizens.
He highlighted the issue at a Caribbean and Latin America panel discussion on regional coordination for hazards and security, at the Radisson Aquatica Resort last night.
Forbes told the representatives of hemispheric agencies dealing with natural and man-made disasters that not only are the people of Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean facing growing disturbances due to the increased number of weapons on the streets, but said some of these illegal items were difficult to detect and users were being trained by international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, or ISIS.
Speaking against a backdrop of gunplay in Barbados that has resulted in death and injuries in recent weeks, Forbes said that between 2006 and last year, 20,000 illegal firearms were removed from the streets in countries across the region.
Forbes, who served as Jamaica’s Commissioner of Police for ten years, ending in 2005, went on to reel off statistics on Caribbean crime and weaponry confiscation for last year alone, which he described as “alarming”.
In 13 of IMPACS’ 15 full member states, there were 2,178 murders, 1,596 rapes, 10,227 robberies, and 2,488 illegal guns seized, alongside 32,364 rounds of ammunition.
Forbes tempered any sense of satisfaction that might come from those weapons being out of people’s hands, saying that “even as we celebrate the success, we must remind ourselves that currently there are polymer weapons, modular weapons, and 3-D printed weapons”.
Polymer and 3-D printed weapons have a relatively low metal content, or none at all, making them undetectable by scanners at airports and other entrances that use security mechanisms.
“There is no doubt that this is indeed a man-made disaster of epic proportions, unfolding slowly but surely,” Forbes said. “The issue of these new-type weapons now demands greater attention.”
The IMPACS executive director painted a picture of regional “dynamic threats”. The first part of those he said, were the traditional dangers of transnational organized crime, guns, drugs, gangs, money laundering, and trafficking in persons.
The other part of that picture comprises evolving menaces such as cybercrimes, new psycho-active and counterfeit drugs, terrorism, cyber-terrorism and electronic crimes.
Forbes added that the trend of Caribbean nationals being trained by terrorist groups abroad introduces another dynamic in the regional security threat.
“It is no secret that some of our citizens – men, women and children – are migrating to join groups such as ISIS. There is proof that approximately 200 citizens from one member state alone have already migrated to Syria, intending to join ISIS,” he said.
Forbes conceded that “no one knows for sure the exact number and identification of these ISIS volunteers” but he said many were coming back.
“Some have found the going a bit too rough and have voluntarily returned home, while others have been forcibly turned back whilst en route,” he cautioned. “This group, many of whom have already been trained in terrorist strategies and tactics, will pose a significant threat to this region for years to come.”