Italian police discovered an alleged criminal organization that smuggled migrants from Iraq to Europe. The gang worked as an "illegal travel agency", investigative sources said.
Their criminal network organized the transfer of undocumented migrants from Iraq to western European countries for 1,000 to 10,000 euros per person, investigative sources said last week.
The gang operated as an "illegal travel agency", organizing everything for the trip, including accommodation during every stop-over of the trip, investigators said.
Six arrest warrants, three suspects behind bars
Anti-mafia investigators in Turin issued arrest warrants against six Iraqis, including three who are now reportedly behind bars.
The suspects are accused of organizing transfers from northern Italy, mainly from Turin, to France and other countries in Europe. The men have been charged of criminal association to favor illegal immigration.
These suspects have been identified:
- Mohammed A., 25, was first arrested on August 9 in La Thuile, near Aosta, when he was caught while helping an accomplice who was driving a truck with 10 undocumented migrants on board. (The accomplice was able to flee on foot.)
- Salah Saeed M., 23, was arrested last week in an area between Turin and the province of Venice, according to investigative sources
- Usman A., 29, was arrested along with Salah Saeed Mohammed.
Investigation started in early 2019
The operation 'Connecting Europe' that led to the arrests kicked off nearly a year ago. During the night of January 17, at the Monte Bianco border crossing with France, Aosta border police discovered 26 undocumented migrants crammed in the back of a truck with no light and little air. Twelve others were found in the back of two other vehicles, including five minors.
The migrants -- including Indians, Iraqi Kurds, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi nationals -- were trying to reach Barcelona, Spain.
One of the four alleged smugglers arrested during the operation, a 50-year-old Rumanian citizen, said he had been promised 500 euros to drive the migrants across the border.
Organization operated in Italy and abroad
Investigators made several arrests. They also carried out wiretaps and followed suspected smugglers to the border crossings of Monte Bianco and Frejus and less-controlled crossings like Moncenisio, Monginevro and Piccolo San Bernardo.
The smuggling association, investigative sources said, had created a national and international network that "was able to reorganize after each arrest to continue its activity," said Eleonora Cognini, a police commissioner in Aosta.
The investigation could unveil an even more complex organization that manages the eastern Mediterranean migration route, said last week Giuseppe Giliberti, a deputy commissioner of the Italian police's Central Operational Service.