ISIS wannabes are riding cruise ships because they know airports are monitored. Many of these foreign fighters are trying to reach Turkey, which is considered the main jump-off point for foreign jihadis.
NY Daily News Wannabe terrorists, hoping to avoid detection, are hitching rides on cruise ships to join the murderous Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. “Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there’s a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas,” said Pierre St. Hilaire, director of counterterrorism at Interpol.
Cruise ships — known for decadence and drunken debauchery — may seem an unlikely mode of travel for Islamic fanatics. But Interpol officials say that, beyond the plunge pools, bottomless buffets and midnight dancing, cruise liners offer some special benefits to foreign fighters. Because the ships make frequent stops, the ISIS wannabes are able to hop off undetected at any number of ports — complicating efforts to track them.
The destination for many of these foreign fighters is Turkey, considered the main jump-off point for jihadis. “There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are traveling mostly to (the Turkish coastal town) Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity,” said outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble.
It’s unclear how many fighters have taken to the sea to meet up with their bloodthirsty brothers. And the phenomenon is relatively new, Interpol officials say, starting in the past few months or so. “Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships — dangerous people on cruise ships — really focused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar or violent criminal,” Noble said.
“But as we’ve gathered data, we’ve realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will — sort of closer to the conflict zones — of Syria and Iraq.”
The potential for greater numbers of fighters to travel by ship has prompted Interpol to expand a pilot program in which airlines screen passengers against the international police body’s global database of stolen passports.
Interpol officials hope the system — dubbed I-Checkit — will one day be expanded to include cruise operators, banks, hotels and other private-sector partners. “It’s a global threat — 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to one specific conflict zone,” St. Hilaire said. “In order to prevent their travel and identify them, there needs to be greater information-sharing among the region, among national security agencies.”
Besides cruise ships, foreign fighters have used other modes of travel to avoid detection, Interpol officials say. Some especially devoted ISIS followers, in a bid to steer clear of stepped-up security at airports, have driven from their homes in Europe to the Syrian border.
As a result, St. Hilaire called on countries to ramp up screening at all transportation hubs — “airports, and, more and more, cruise ines.”