Early on Wednesday, some 200 federal police officers carried out simultaneous raids on ten homes and offices in three cities in Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet – Gelsenkirchen, Essen and Mülheim.
Six people were taken into custody on foot of arrest warrants. Five further suspects were detained for preliminary questioning, while a twelfth man is believed to have fled.
Police also seized two firearms and a large quantity of marijuana.
A four-month police investigation revealed that the gang had successfully transported 60 Iraqis to their final destination. In a further 63 cases, the group’s activities were foiled in either Italy or Germany, according to federal police in Essen.
In exchange for payment, the gang – consisting of Iraqi citizens living in Germany – helped their compatriots travel north to Sweden, where their chances of gaining political asylum were viewed as considerably better than elsewhere in Europe.
The group used mobile homes rented in Germany to pick up refugees in Greece and take them to Italy, newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten quotes the police as saying. From there the refugees would be broken down into smaller groups before continuing their journey in different vehicle through Austria, Germany and Denmark.
If convicted of people smuggling and possession of firearms, the gang members risk facing a ten year jail sentence.