Three people were arrested and dozens of searches were conducted across Italy on Tuesday as part of a police operation against members of a criminal organization involved in aiding and abetting unauthorized immigration. The operation came after investigations connected to a terrorist attack on December 19, 2016 in Berlin.
Three Tunisian nationals were arrested on Tuesday (January 31) as part of an operation coordinated by Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DDA).
The operation aimed to drive out members of a criminal organization involved in aiding and abetting unauthorised immigration.
Operation Wet Shoes -- the name given to Tuesday's operation -- came after investigations connected to a terrorist attack on December 19, 2016 in Berlin by Tunisian national Anis Amri.
Investigators found that among the foreigners attempting to get to Europe through the channels of the criminal network were individuals "connected to jihadist circles," Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said.
'Aiding and abetting unauthorised immigration'
Two of the arrested were jailed while the third was granted house arrest.
The three are accused of "criminal association for the aiding and abetting of unauthorized immigration with the aggravating circumstance of the cross-border nature of the crime," according to a statement released.
"Thanks to a wide network of complicity across the Macerata area [including business owners and public officials, extending across several areas of the nation and abroad], they had set up a criminal partnership able to manage the clandestine arrival on the Sicilian coasts of foreigners, mostly North Africans, logistical support and necessary cover to get the necessary documentation to facilitate their transfer across the entire Schengen area," the statement said.
The three are also being investigated for possible suspicious financial movements that might be connected to terrorist ends.
The inquiry -- still in a preliminary phase and in which those involved are to be considered innocent until proven guilty, as the Macerata police headquarters stressed -- is an investigative development of activities conducted by the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS) of Rome and coordinated by the prosecutor's office in the Italian capital after the December 19, 2016 terrorist attack in Berlin by the Tunisian national Anis Amri.
Amri had entered Italy in an unauthorized manner via sea from Tunisia and arrived in Germany using fake Italian identification papers.
Operation Wet Shoes, complicity across Macerata province
The Macerata police headquarters noted that 44 searches had been carried out in relation to 18 people under investigation for different crimes and 26 other people linked in various ways to the criminal organisation.
The searches were conducted in the Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona provinces.
Among the sites that the Ancona DDA focused on was a center for financial assistance in the Macerata area and a cottage in the countryside of the same province, where foreigners that had arrived in the country in an unauthorised manner often frequented.
Operation Wet Shoes got its name from a conversation that was wiretapped by investigators as part of the disembarking of unauthorised migrants in Sicily's Mazara del Vallo in which one of those taking part said that he was scared of being stopped by the police with foreigners who had just disembarked on the island since they had "wet shoes".