Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Italian police arrested two men for allegedly trafficking 26 teenage girls from Nigeria who were found dead in the Mediterranean Sea, authorities said Tuesday.
The men were identified as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar of Libya and Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid of Egypt, reported The Guardian. Both are accused of organizing the trafficking of at least 150 people whose boats sank while crossing the sea Sunday.
Rosa Maria Falasca, chief of staff at Salerno's prefecture, said police haven't made a direct connection between the men and the deaths of the girls, who authorities believe may have been abused and killed.
The girls, whose ages were between 14 and 18, were found dead when Spanish military ships arrived to rescue them Sunday.
The two men were arrested after migrants identified them as the skippers of the sunken boats, ANSA reported.
Falasca said police have doubts as to whether the girls were being trafficked to Europe as part of a sex operation, noting that sea crossings aren't a normal route sex traffickers take, according to Italian Insider.
Marco Rotunno, an Italy spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, told The Guardian that violence against women and children is so widespread in human trafficking routes to Europe that 90 percent of women are affected by it.
"It's very rare to find a woman who hasn't been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are traveling with their husband," he said. "But also women traveling alone with their children have been abused."