Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Army: Exploitation of Refugees in the European Union


Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Army: Exploitation of Refugees in the European Union

Lighthouse Reports’ Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Border Army 🔗︎

In September 2022, Maltego had the pleasure to host the webinar, “Exploitation of refugees in the European Union,” with Bashar Deeb and Klaas van Dijken from Lighthouse Reports. Bashar shared with us the difficult and dangerous path they followed to complete an OSINT and Maltego-based investigation: Masked Men – A Lighthouse Reports Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Border Army.

Unmasking Europe’s shadow armies was an eight-month-long investigation on masked men operating in Greece and Croatia, who have been reported as having performed physical assaults, illegal pushbacks, reckless endangerment, and rights abuses on asylum seekers and migrants. Led by Lighthouse Reports, the investigation started by gathering testimony from asylum seekers about the violence they suffered at Europe’s borders by men wearing balaclavas. The investigation aimed to uncover the organizations and their units responsible for these acts.

The webinar was divided into three parts. First, they talked about Europe’s shadow army—Masked men in Croatia. Second, they presented a brief elaboration about illegal and violent returns in the Aegean Sea. Lastly, they guided us through the investigation into Greece’s recruitment of migrants to facilitate illegal return operations.

About Lighthouse Reports 🔗︎

Lighthouse Reports is a non-profit based in the Netherlands that leads complex transnational investigations blending traditional journalistic methods such as freedom of information requests with emerging techniques like open source intelligence and specialisms like data science.

The Maltego Academic & Non-Profit Research Program 🔗︎

With the Maltego Academic and NGO program, Maltego aims to encourage continued innovation within the Maltego community. We empower highly motivated and talented individuals who can help create awareness of our tool and create user-based knowledge around Maltego in relevant and important topics.

Maltego supported Lighthouse Reports as part of the Academic Program with the investigative resources required for this investigation.

Case 1: Masked Men in Croatia 🔗︎

In the asylum seekers’ testimonies, Croatia stood out as a place where violence was described as “extreme”. The Croatian government denied the allegations in the absence of evidence of these events. Bashar Deeb and Klaas van Dijken, researchers from Lighthouse Reports, presented the footage of a violent pushback at the border with Bosnia Herzegovina, captured by the team during a risky trip in Bosnia. In the video, two masked men whose identities were unknown were filmed beating an asylum seeker.

Masked Men in Croatia

The refugees beaten in the video reported that they were attacked by police officers. Two of the four men who were seen mistreating refugees at the Croatian-Bosnian border were wearing distinctive jackets. Thus, the researchers performed a visual analysis of the uniform they were wearing to identify the participating police units to which the perpetrators belong.

Connecting the Masked Men’s Uniforms to the Croatian Intervention Police 🔗︎

A source provided a photo of the jacket used by the Croatian Police and claimed that this jacket was used by the Intervention Unit. Forensic examination of one video showing a violent pushback revealed that the masked men had equipment and uniforms consistent with Croatian Police’s riot control branch called the Intervention Police.

Connecting the Masked Men’s Uniforms to the Croatian Intervention Police

Among the similarities found, the most evident indicators were:

  • Diamond pattern
  • Identical zipper with the same placement
  • A breast pocket in the same position

The source also took pictures of the jacket’s interior, where one could see a tag with “INTERVENTNA POLICIJA” written on it, which stands for Intervention Police in Croatian.

A tag in the jacket’s interior with “INTERVENTNA POLICIJA” written on it

EU Funding of the Croatian Intervention Police Uniform 🔗︎

As their next step, the researchers looked into the source of funding for the uniforms. They found that Croatia had used EU funds to finance these border operations.

Based on documents in the EU’s tender database, they found that the costs for the jackets, accommodation, and per diems for the officers were paid out of the EU’s Internal Security Fund (ISF). With this last piece of information, they confirmed that the men in the footage belong to the Intervention Police Unit.

The source of funding for the uniforms

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Happy investigating!

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