Italian police bust suspected traffickers

March 5, 2009 at 8:10 PM
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ROME, March 5 (UPI) -- Italian police Thursday arrested 13 people for allegedly operating a human smuggling ring, officials said.

ANSA reported that police described the ring as "multiethnic and very dangerous." The suspects allegedly referred to the immigrants they smuggled from Libya to Italy as "tuna fish," "crates of tomatoes," or if they were minors, "school satchels."

Suspects were arrested in several cities. The Italian news service said the alleged gang was largely made up of Sudanese members but also included a Tunisian, a Ugandan, an Iraqi, an Eritrean and a Moroccan woman.

Officials said the smugglers maintained contact with the immigrants even after their arrival in Italy.

Police said for every immigrant transported from Souara, Libya, to Italian shores, the criminal organization made between more than $1,800 and more than $5,000.

Authorities said they know of at least 20 cases where the immigrants were held hostage by the gang and released only after relatives paid a ransom.

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