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Italian Police Smash Nigerian Drug Gangs

Italy's anti-Mafia unit has smashed a Nigerian drug and human-trafficking ring that forced hundreds of women into prostitution. Police say dozens of Nigerians were arrested in Italy on Tuesday and 15 others in European countries including the Netherlands. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Operation Viola ended early Tuesday carried out by Italian and Dutch police with the help of Interpol. A total of 66 Nigerian citizens were arrested, mainly in Italy, accused of smuggling compatriots into Europe to work as prostitutes and drug dealers.

Police said 51 suspects were arrested and are accused of being affiliated with the Italian mafia who have been linked to human trafficking, slavery, kidnapping and international drug trafficking.

Police also uncovered "serious adoption irregularities" in which Nigerian women living in Italy were able to take infants from Nigerian orphanages and sell them abroad.

One of the police chiefs involved in the operation said one of the most chilling and touching aspects from a human point of view was the way these women were forced into slavery, the way the were trafficked. These women, he said, were completely subjugated with voodoo rites.

Expressing satisfaction at the outcome of the operation, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato noted "a powerful international organization that exploited human beings and in particular minors has been smashed."

"These are extremely serious crimes that have brought slavery back, feeding off poverty," he said.

Amato added that law enforcement needed to be inflexible with these criminals, and thanks to great police work, excellent results are being achieved.

The operation also revealed 'major' drug traffic into Italy, especially cocaine.

The National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso said Italian police had found a logbook in a drug lab outside Amsterdam containing the names and cell phone numbers of 300 drug couriers.

Grasso, who said Nigerian clans represent "an enormous danger," also revealed that the Nigerians held an international drug summit in Turin a few years ago to cement relations with Colombian cocaine lords.

Police said the first phase of the operation ended in October with 23 arrests of Nigerian traffickers and couriers in the United States and European countries including Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Belgium.