More than 400 police officers were involved in raids in four different German states and Austria against an international people smuggling ring on Tuesday morning. The ring is thought to have trafficked more than 100 people, mostly from Syria, illegally into Germany. Five suspects were arrested, a total of 19 are being investigated.
Early Tuesday morning (January 19), police officers in four different German states -- Lower Saxony, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and the capital Berlin -- raided eleven different buildings. According to Germany’s national broadcaster ARD, more than 400 police officers were involved in the raids.
Austrian police had already captured the suspected head of the ring in December 2020, and in Germany, the raids concentrated on gathering evidence against the gang as well as arresting five more suspects, out of the seven arrest warrants they had prepared.
19 suspects investigated
The German news agency dpa reported that police gathered up smartphones thought to have been used by the gang suspects. In total, reported ARD’s news magazine program Tagesschau, 19 suspects between the ages of 21 and 44 are under investigation.
The suspects are accused of having brought in about 140 migrants illegally through the so-called Balkan route into Germany. Most of those smuggled are thought to come from Syria and are said to have paid very high sums to be smuggled into Germany.
According to ARD, the smugglers are thought to have brought the migrants from Turkey, through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and finally to Germany. German prosecutors said in a statement that the smugglers seemed "very professional with well-laid plans," reported ARD.
Well organized smuggling
They even had scouts along the route to get past the police controls, explained the German prosecutors. It is thought that the migrants had to get over most of the borders on foot before rejoining their mode of transport in the next country. The head of the gang is thought to have coordinated everything via his smartphone using encoded messaging apps.
ARD reported that German police first got wind of the gang in August 2019, when they picked up one of the drivers on motorway 7 near the Austrian border. They began investigations alongside Europol and with the help of police forces in several other European countries, including Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Belgium.
According to the state prosecutors, the arrested suspects are thought to be nationsls from Syria, Libya and Lebanon.
With AFP, dpa and ARD