Italy breaks Tunisian human-trafficking ring: police

Italy breaks Tunisian human-trafficking ring: police
Italian police broke up a gang including suspects who sympathised with militants, officials said Tuesday.
3 min read
10 April, 2018
Italian police have stepped up arrests of terror suspects in recent months [Getty]

A gang including suspects with jihadist sympathies who charged migrants thousands of euros to rush them in speedboats across the Mediterranean from Tunisia was captured by Italian police, officials said on Tuesday.

The group, made up of 13 Italian, Tunisian and Moroccan suspects were caught in a dawn raid and are part of a network accused of trafficking people and contraband cigarettes, a police spokesman told AFP.

The traffickers brought migrants from Nabeul in north-eastern Tunisia to Trapani on the west coast of Sicily, police said in a separate statement.

The gang would bring between 10 and 15 people a time, earning up to 70,000 euros per four-hour crossing, with hundreds of kilos of contraband cigarettes also stashed in the boats.

The police statement said that "some members" of the network had jihadist sympathies, showing "hostile attitudes to Western culture" and "spreading propaganda via fake profiles on social media". 

In a wiretapped telephone conversation, one of the gang's associates asked fellow members to pray for him while he went to France to carry "dangerous actions, after which he might not be able to return".

Since the summer of 2017, Italy has seen a rise in Tunisian migrants arriving in Sicily or on the island of Lampedusa, despite a repatriation agreement with the Tunisian government.

Some 6,000 Tunisians landed in 2017 and more than 1,300 have arrived since the start of this year, the Italian Interior Ministry said.

That number however does not include the so-called "ghost landings", of which the only trace is wet clothes found on the beaches of western Sicily.

Italian police have stepped up their arrests of terror suspects in recent months.

Italy's Interior Minister Marco Minniti said the risk of terrorism is higher than ever in the country because foreign fighters are trying to return to Europe through Italy. 

Last month, anti-terrorism police arrested an Italian man of Moroccan descent for allegedly planning a truck attack.

Italian police also arrested five Tunisians as part of a "vast anti-terrorism operation" in Rome and the nearby town of Latina, police said in a statement.

The five Tunisian men are suspected of ties to Anis Amri, the Tunisian man who killed 12 people in Berlin after driving a truck into a Christmas market in December 2016.

Italian police shot dead Amri near Milan five days later.

Prosecutors say the five men arrested are suspected of planning terror attacks, falsifying documents and facilitating the illegal immigration of radicalised youth. 

But sources told Reuters there was no evidence the five men were involved in the Berlin truck attack or plotting any act of violence on Italian soil.

Twenty-nine foreigners, most of them Muslims, have been deported from Italy so far this year.