Italy Police Bust Eritrean Boat Trafficking Ring

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Italian police said Wednesday they had busted an Eritrean trafficking ring accused of smuggling migrants into Europe on perilous Mediterranean boat crossings, including one in which 244 people died.

Police arrested 10 Eritreans after an investigation uncovered "existence of a transnational organization, operating in Italy, Libya, Eritrea, and other North-African states," according to a statement released by police in Catania, Sicily where the investigation was launched in May.

The group organized boat departures from Libya to Italy, with "footsoldiers" in the Lazio and Lombardy regions who provided "logistical support to migrants and smugglers... to help them from Sicily to Italy, then on to other countries in Europe," Antontio Salvago of Catania police told AFP.

Nine of those taken into custody were arrested on November 25 in Italy, while the tenth -- named as Measho Tesfamariam and accused of being one of the ringleaders -- was arrested on Tuesday in Germany.

The group is accused of organizing 23 trips from Libya to Italy between May and September, while Tesfamariam is alleged to have personally overseen in Libya the departure of an overcrowded vessel which sank off the North African coast between June 27 and 28, killing all 224 people on board.

During a raid in Catania, police also arrested an 11th Eritrean accused of harboring nine Somalians, eight of whom were minors, in a small locked room.

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