In a significant victory against transnational crime, Europol has announced the arrest of a Syrian gang leader and 14 other suspects in Spain. This criminal network specialised in smuggling Syrian nationals from their war-torn homeland into the European Union, utilizing an intricate route that passed through Sudan, Libya, and Algeria.
The operation, led by the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), received vital support from law enforcement agencies in France, Germany, and Norway, ensuring its success.
A diverse criminal portfolio
The investigation uncovered that this organised criminal network, believed to have been active since 2017, engaged in a wide range of illegal activities, including migrant smuggling, drug trafficking, and firearms trafficking. With a well-established presence in various European and Middle Eastern countries, the gang devised an unusually long and costly route to transport irregular migrants from Syria to the EU. Their elaborate journey commenced in Syria, where migrants were routed through Sudan or the United Arab Emirates, eventually arriving in Libya. From there, the migrants were transported to Algeria before embarking on the perilous Mediterranean crossing into Europe.
A gateway to Europe
For the final leg of the journey, the suspects facilitated illegal entry into Spain via the Western Mediterranean, deviating from the typical Eastern Mediterranean route used to smuggle Syrian nationals from Turkey to Greece. Although some migrants remained in Spain, the majority aimed to reach countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, and Norway.
The coordinated action day yielded impressive results, with law enforcement authorities executing searches across 13 locations and apprehending 15 individuals. Additionally, significant evidence and assets were seized, including two speed boats, six vehicles, electronic equipment (laptops, a tablet, GPS devices, and storage devices), drugs, fuel, phones (42 cell phones and two satellite phones), over €500,000 in cash, and various documents.
🚨 Syrian gang leader arrested with 14 other suspects in Spain.
The suspects arranged for the smuggling of at least 200 migrants rarely used migration route from Syria through Sudan or the United Arab Emirates.
— Europol (@Europol) July 4, 2023
A vast network across 9 countries
Led by a Syrian suspect, this criminal network benefited from an extensive infrastructure in countries along the route, particularly Lebanon, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria. The suspects orchestrated the smuggling of at least 200 migrants along the rarely used migration route from Syria, either through Sudan or the United Arab Emirates. In Libya, corrupt officials collaborated with the smugglers to facilitate the transfer to Algeria, from where the migrants were transported to Spain via high-speed boats. Within Europe, network members in Belgium, Germany, and Spain coordinated the sea crossings and facilitated further transportation to the desired destination countries. The suspects charged each person between €7,000 and €20,000 for the treacherous journey.
A full-service operation
The criminal network managed every logistical aspect of the journey, providing transportation, handling paperwork in certain countries, arranging flight tickets, and securing accommodation along the route. Their premium “VIP service,” priced at up to €20,000, included exclusive perks such as a transfer from the arrival point on the Spanish mainland and accommodation in Spain. To ensure the success of their illicit operations, the network implemented stringent security measures. Surveillance, both physical and video-based, was strategically placed at clandestine points along the coast where irregular migrants were expected to arrive.
Crucial role of information exchange
Europol played a pivotal role in facilitating the exchange of crucial information, providing operational coordination, and offering analytical support. Throughout the year-long investigation, numerous operational meetings were organised. During the action week, Europol deployed a lead analyst and investigative teams to Spain, enabling real-time information sharing and cross-referencing operational data against Europol’s databases, which provided invaluable leads to field investigators. Following the operation, Europol extended extensive forensic assistance to Spanish authorities for analysing the newly collected data.
Information clearing house
A significant portion of the operational analysis was carried out within the framework of the Information Clearing House, established to enhance the intelligence landscape concerning organised migrant smuggling from source and transit countries. This robust exchange of criminal intelligence has yielded the detection of new trends and modi operandi within the migrant smuggling landscape. Sharing intelligence on such trends and incidents detected along the smuggling routes equips national authorities with crucial leads, allowing them to investigate the extent of criminal activity and the vast geographical reach of these criminal networks.
By dismantling this extensive criminal network, law enforcement agencies have dealt a severe blow to transnational crime and have successfully disrupted the smuggling of Syrian nationals into the European Union. This collaborative effort exemplifies the power of international cooperation in combatting organised crime and upholding the rule of law.
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