75 cyber crime suspects have now been arrested in an Interpol-led operation spanning 14 countries across four continents. Most of the suspects are believed to be affiliated with Black Axe, one of Nigeria’s biggest cults, which stole millions of hard currency from victims. The rest of them were suspected members of organised crime groups from other parts of West Africa.
In South Africa alone, two suspects who had allegedly swindled more than $1.8 million from victims through online scams were arrested. In Ireland, 34 were arrested and over €64 million was reported stolen.
Other countries include France, Germany, Malaysia, Spain, the UAE, the UK, the US, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Argentina, Australia and Italy.
The international police organisation carried out 49 inspections, seizing 12,000 SIM cards, luxury assets including a residential property, three cars, tens of thousands of cash and several other paraphernalia during Operation Jackal, which was executed between September 26 to September 30. Police also intercepted 1.2 million Euro in several bank accounts.
Black Axe has now become a “major security threat worldwide”, according to Interpol. They, along with similar groups, are allegedly responsible for most of the world’s cyber fraud and other heinous crimes. This led Interpol to coordinate its first global operation targeting Black Axe specifically.
The astounding quantity of assets seized during Operation Jackal have also provided new investigative leads, allowing them to identify over 70 more suspects.
"Illicit financial funds are the lifeblood of transnational organised crime, and we have witnessed how groups like Black Axe will channel money gained from online financial scams into other crime areas, such as drugs and human trafficking," said Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol's executive director of police services.
“Fraud is transnational, there are no borders…This is a great example of what can be achieved when international police forces cooperate by sharing intelligence, information and evidence. By working together with support from INTERPOL, the activities of these criminal gangs can be greatly disrupted, making it safer online for everyone,” said Michael Cryan, Detective Superintendent of Ireland’s Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which was a participant of the operation.
The United Nations states that up to $2 trillion in illicit funds are laundered globally every year, yet only less than 1% of these funds are intercepted and recovered.
People are more susceptible to becoming victims of cyber fraud than any other crime, especially in a world that is becoming more and more digital. Thousands of people lose their money to email scams, romance app scams, inheritance scams and fake investments, which are Black Axe’s modus operandi.
Black Axe’s operations date back as far as the 70’s, when they were formed in Benin city, Nigeria. However, the group did not gain notoriety in the global crime scene until the 2010s, when they were named one of the most expansive and dangerous organised crime groups in the world by BBC Africa. Members of the group are known as axemen.
In 2021, Black Axe members attempted to steal 1 million Euro in welfare fraud during the pandemic in Ireland. That same year, the US Attorney General’s office charged 8 members of the group for internet scams and money laundering, following an investigation by the Secret Service and FBI.
The group is also said to be heavily involved in Nigerian politics.
Sources: Interpol News, The Register.