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Eritreans Say Italy Has Wrong Man in Migrant Smuggling Case

This handout picture released by the Italian police (Polizia di Stato), on June 8, 2016 shows Medhanie Yehdego Mered, 35, an Eritrean suspected of controlling a migrant trafficking network, escorted by policemen upon his extradition from Sudan to Italy late on June 6, 2016.

Friends and relatives of an Eritrean detained in Italy for alleged migrant smuggling say police are holding the wrong man.

Italian police said Wednesday that Medhanie Yehdego Mered — suspected of running one of the biggest networks transporting migrants from Libya to Europe -- had been taken into custody after being extradited from Sudan.

Multiple sources, however, say the man in custody is actually another Eritrean with the same first name, Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe.

Berhe's sister, Segen Tesfamariam Berhe, tells VOA's Horn of Africa service that she did not know her brother had been sent to Italy until she saw photos of him in the media. She says she had spent the last two to three weeks looking for him in every police station in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Amanuel Zaid, a former Eritrean television employee who lives in the U.S. state of Virginia, tells VOA that he spent four days calling around Sudan trying to learn the whereabouts of his friend and former neighbor from Asmara.

Berhe is said to be 22 years old, while the alleged smuggler, Mered, is believed to be 35.

An Italian prosecutor, Francesco Lo Voi, said Thursday that his office is looking into reports that authorities had mistaken the identity of the suspect.

"We are undertaking the necessary checks, but this seems unusual," he told the Associated Press.

Ezra Fessahaye of VOA's Horn of Africa service contributed to this report.