A migrant smuggling ring that helped Syrians and others reach Austria, Germany and France was dismantled in an operation led by Italian police, the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol said Tuesday.
Sixteen arrests were made among alleged members of a criminal syndicate composed of Syrian, Algerian, Egyptian, Lebanese and Tunisian suspects who were involved in the illicit smuggling of migrants, mostly of Syrian origin, a statement said.
The Italian police said separately that 21 arrest warrants had been issued, but that some of the suspects had fled to Belgium, Sweden and France and were going to be further pursued through European arrest warrants.
Migrants would be smuggled along the Balkan route and then packed in vehicles leaving from Hungary and Italy, Europol said. The illicit transport of at least 200 people, who paid around 500 euros (560 dollars) each, was documented during 2014-2016.
Italy's police hinted that proceeds were used, at least in part, to finance Islamist groups, as they reported on finding "several money transfers" towards unidentified people based in Syrian territories "where armed militias inspired by religious fanaticism" operate.
The arrest in Hungary of an Italian man driving a vehicle packed with irregular migrants prompted the start of investigations in the northern Italian town of Como, Europol said. Austrian and German authorities were also involved in the case, the EU agency added.