Aspiring Isis fighters booking Mediterranean cruises to get to Syria

The cruises are being used to bypass increased security at Turkish airports

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The Independent Online

Aspiring jihadi fighters are booking tickets on luxury cruise ships to join militants fighting in Iraq and Syria, police chiefs have warned.

Interpol, the international police co-operation agency, said militants travelling to the region to fight for Isis, also known as Islamic State, were using the cruises to bypass increased security measures at airports, especially in Turkey.

Turkey has a long border with Syria and cheap commercial flights to the rest of Europe, making it a major way station for foreign Islamist fighters who intend to fight in the region.

Cruise ships tend to make repeated stops in different ports and people on them can disembark without leaving the same paper trail as a direct plane ticket.

Pierre St Hilaire, director of counter-terrorism at Interpol, suggested that a crackdown on travel directly to Turkey had made it more difficult for western fighters traveling to join Isis and that they were beginning to exploit alternative routes into the country.

"Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there's a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas," he said. "There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are travelling mostly to Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity."

Speaking at the Interpol general assembly in Monaco, Ronald Noble, the outgoing chief of the organisation called on countries to step up screening at all transport hubs, "airports and, more and more, cruise lines".

The police agency used the example to justify the expansion of its I-Checkit system, in which airlines cross reference passenger data against an Interpol database.

Interpol wants to expand the system to encompass cruise operators, banks, hotels, and other private sector organisations.

Mr St Hilaire said it was not clear how many would-be foreign fighters were travelling by cruise ship to reach Syria, and noted that other options, such as driving by car, also existed.

"It's a global threat - 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries travelling to one specific conflict zone," he said, noting that that there are some 300 from China alone. "In order to prevent their travel and identify them, there needs to be greater information-sharing among the region, among national security agencies."