From: Biniam Tekle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu Mar 05 2009 - 13:32:29 EST
Major human trafficking gang busted
Immigrants called 'tuna fish', 'tomatoes' or 'satchels'
(ANSA) - Bari, March 5 - Police on Thursday busted a major human
trafficking racket whose members referred to the immigrants they shipped
from Libya to Italy as 'tuna fish', 'crates of tomatoes' or, if they were
minors, 'school satchels' during telephone calls.
Thirteen people were arrested in Sicily and Calabria in the south and
Lombardy and Emilia Romagna in the north, of whom police said several would
face kidnapping charges.
Investigators described the gang as ''multiethnic and very dangerous''.
The gang was largely made up of Sudanese but also included a Tunisian, a
Ugandan, an Iraqi, an Eritrean and a Moroccan woman.
The police operation was an offshoot of one in 2005 which cracked down on a
gang of foreigners suspected of having links with international terrorism.
Evidence gathered later showed that while the group had no ties to
terrorism, it was part of a large international organization involved in
human trafficking with branches in the countries the immigrants originated
from as well as in Libya and Italy. Investigators explained that branches in
countries like Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan would recruit
immigrants who were then taken to the Libyan port of Souara. From there the
Libyan members of the organization would take over and arrange to have the
immigrants brought to Italy by sea, usually to the island of Lampedusa. The
criminal organization maintained contact with the immigrants even after
their arrival in Italy, where a Sudanese gang leader monitored their
transfer to immigration processing centers in the cities of Crotone,
Agrigento and Caltanissetta. Through his agents in the centers, the Sudanese
gang leader not only arranged for the immigrants to escape but also
organised their transfer to cities in northern Italy. For every immigrant
transported from Souara to Italian shores the organisation made between
1,500 and 4,000 euros, and 2,000 euros for minors, police said.
Investigators were able to ascertain that in at least 20 cases the
immigrants were held hostage by the gang and released only after relatives
paid a ransom.
The president of the State Security Commission (Copasir), Francesco Rutelli,
congratulated the police on busting the racket. ''Human trafficking is by
now one of the foremost businesses of organised crime, which has devastating
implications and increases our country's insecurity,'' he said. Rutelli
added that Copasir would present a report on human trafficking to parliament
by the end of April which would recommend further measures to help combat
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