Police swoop on refugee smugglers nationwide
Police raided properties across the country on Wednesday as they sought to clamp down on criminal networks smuggling refugees into Germany.
The raids took place in Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and involved searches of 24 properties, authorities in Lower Saxony announced.
“In Lower Saxony searches began at 6.00am in Hildesheim and Osnabrück, as well as Lengede,” a spokesperson for the Federal Police said.
The operations against an “internationally organized smuggling network” involved around 570 officers from the Federal Police as well as armed support teams due to "an acute threat of violence".
A total of 17 people are accused of involvement in the gang which prosecutors believe illegally transported people from Syria and Lebanon into Germany. The 24-year-old man suspected of leading the gang was arrested in Essen.
Police seized weapons including machetes, knives and munitions for small arms.
The background to the raid is an investigation being carried out by prosecutors in Hildesheim into organized people smuggling.
Prosecutors believe the gang provided refugees with passports and falsified certificates before bringing them to the Federal Republic.
Smugglers demanded up to €10,000 for their services and brought people by air into the country.
According to the Bild newspaper the criminal gangs are run by large Lebanese families.