Italian police dismantled a migrant smuggling ring and arrested 38 people, officials said Monday, following a tip-off from an informer, who claimed that some migrants were being killed and carved up for organ extraction.
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The operation led by Palermo prosecutors triggered arrests in Sicily, Rome and northern Italy of 25 Eritreans, 12 Ethiopians and one Italian, who were believed to have smuggled "thousands of migrants" into Europe, a statement said.
They are accused of organized crime membership, abetting illegal migration, performing unlicensed financial transactions, and trafficking and dealing in drugs.
Italian police described the suspects as belonging to "one of the most menacing migrant trafficking rackets, operating in North Africa,on national territory through active cells in Agrigento, Palermo and Rome, as well as in several European countries."
Investigations were aided by a former trafficker, who started cooperating with police after his arrest in 2014. He is Italy's first-ever turncoat from the migrant smuggling business, police said.
The ANSA news agency named him as Nuredin Atta Wehabrebi and said he relayed gruesome information to authorities.
"I was told that [migrants] who cannot pay [for their travel] are handed over to Egyptians who kill them to extract their organs and sell them on in Egypt for 15,000 dollars," the informant was quoted as saying.