Italian authorities say they have foiled an alleged international criminal organization run by Italian and Tunisian citizens who organized "luxury" trips to take migrants to Italy.
A suspected criminal organization allegedly organized "luxury trips" using fast dinghies that departed from Tunisia to reach the coasts of Agrigento and Trapani, in Sicily, guaranteeing the security and confidentiality of people fleeing North African authorities, finance police in Agrigento said on Wednesday, July 6.
The transnational organization allegedly included two factions: one formed by Tunisians and another by Sicilians from the cities of Canicattì and Marsala, investigative sources said.
The 10 alleged members of the group are accused of favoring illegal immigration. An unspecified number of members are also suspected of close connections with international terrorist organizations, investigative sources have revealed.
The structure of the organization and charges
The association was allegedly headed by a 46-year-old man from Canicattì and by two Tunisians, aged 51, who are suspected of having funded and organized the group's activities, investigative sources said.
In the group, another Canicattì native, aged 62, was alleged to have been in contact with Tunisian associates while another member of the organization, 39, drove the boats and was in charge of their maintenance and security.
Trips to Italy and extra services
Investigators said the probe revealed the ability of the transnational criminal organization to offer new "services" in migrant smuggling aimed at making crossings safer, in exchange for higher rates.
The organization also allegedly guaranteed that migrants would not be identified once they reached Italy.
Maritime connections between Tunisia and the Sicilian coast around Trapani and Agrigento were offered to groups of North Africans who were able to afford the high cost of the exclusive trip aboard fast boats.
The service offered allegedly did not end with the landing but included forms of assistance aimed at guaranteeing the permanence of migrants on Italian territory, investigative sources said.
Police documented the constant phone contacts between the alleged gang members under investigation, the purchase of phone cards, the rental of expensive boats, cars, phones, apartments to host migrants and warehouses to store the boats. Members also allegedly used encrypted messages on a regular basis and had a network of stable contacts with Tunisian organizations, investigative sources said.