Police in Sicily bust alleged Tunisia-Italy human trafficking gang

Italian police said on Thursday they had issued 18 arrest warrants for Italians and Tunisians allegedly involved in a human trafficking organisation bringing people from Tunisia to Sicily.

Police in Sicily bust alleged Tunisia-Italy human trafficking gang
Police said they had arrested 12 of 18 people suspected of smuggling migrants into Italy from towns on the Tunisian coast. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Police said in a statement that they had arrested 12 of the suspects, with six still unaccounted for.

The smuggling ring allegedly used small boats with powerful engines to transport between 10 to 30 people at a time from towns on the Tunisian coast to the southern Italian island of Sicily.

Migrants were “subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment” on the journey, lasting around four hours, which put their lives in “serious danger”, police said.

The suspected smugglers are alleged to have demanded payment in cash in Tunisia before departure, with the crossing costing between 3,000 euros and 5,000 euros per person, meaning the alleged traffickers were pocketing between 30,000 euros and 70,000 euros per trip.

The ringleaders were said to be a Tunisian man couple in the Sicilian town of Niscemi – despite them both being under house arrest at the time.

They relied on the help of a series of other people tasked with logistics such as money collection and putting up newly-arrived migrants, including a farmer alleged to have allowed the use of his land as a base for operations.

They now face charges of illegal cross-border trafficking of more than five people, with the aggravating circumstance of inhuman treatment and endangering lives and committing crimes for profit.

While the new Italian government says it will crack down on humanitarian ships that rescue migrants on boats departing from Libya, the majority of migrants arriving in Italy travel from Tunisia.

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 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.