Italian police holding notorious 'people smuggler' have 'wrong man'

Italian police holding notorious 'people smuggler' have 'wrong man'
2 min read
10 June, 2016
Family members of an Eritrean man being held by Italian police say he is not the notorious suspected people smuggler Medhanie Yehdego Mered who authorities believe they have captured.
Libya is a popular destination for African migrants hoping to reach Europe [AFP]
Italian police who are holding an Eritrean man suspected of heading a migrant trafficking ring might have the wrong person, his family have said.

An Eritrean woman in Norway told BBC's Newsnight last night that she is convinced they have the wrong man.

She said the man they are holding is her brother named Mered Tesfamariam, not Medhanie Yehdego Mered the suspected notorious people smuggler also known as "the general".

Innocent man

She said the arrest is a case of mistaken identity and her brother has been missing for two weeks.

"I want to tell Italian police my brother is innocent, he is not the man they are looking for. Please, investigators, release my brother," she was quoted as saying from Khartoum by Italy's Rai News.

A woman claiming to be his stepsister, Saliem Kesete, told the Italian broadcaster that Mered Tesfamariam "was a carpenter, with a family... an innocent man who wanted to go to the US. Europe was his second choice".

The images of the two men also appear to be strikingly different.

The Eritrean man's lawyer said that the suspect told investigators they have the wrong man, AFP reported.

Italian police believed they had captured "the general" after a sweeping international investigation involving Sudanese, Italian and UK police.

Mered, 35, is accused of shipping thousands of people to Europe and sending some to their deaths in the Mediterranean.

ID check

Italian prosecutors admitted on Thursday that they were checking his identity they have in their cells.

Lawyer Michele Calantropo said his client "denied being the suspect and also denied being linked in any way to a trafficking network", when questioned by Italian magistrates, AFP reported.

The suspect Medhanie Yehdego Mered has been on a wanted list since 2015 for people smuggling.

He is accused of packing migrants onto a boat that sank in 2013 off the Italian island of Lampedusa, claiming at least 360 lives in one of the worst disasters in the Mediterranean.

Referred to in wiretapped conversations between his alleged subordinate traffickers as "the general", Mered is accused of organising the smuggling of up to 8,000 people a year on migrant boats.

Agencies contributed to this story