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Austrian police busts Serbian human trafficking gang

Authorities have arrested members of a "highly organized" group that transported some 1,800 refugees from eastern Europe to Austria. The Serbian gang has made half a million euros since February, officials have said.

A total of 12 suspects were arrested, 11 in Austria and one in Greece, with police issuing international arrest warrants for another five people, authorities in Vienna said Thursday.

The police also seized six vans and 50,000 euros ($53,575) in a sting operation tied to the arrests.

"This is most certainly one of our biggest successes," Lower Austria police chief Franz Prucher told reporters.

All of the people arrested were Serbs, some of whom lived in Austria for years, according to the police chief.

"They were highly organized. They had rented flats in Vienna so they could get a rest between their trips," Prucher added. "They were traveling in convoys with an advance party making sure there were no checks ahead."

The gang would charge between 250 euros and 300 euros to smuggle a person from the Serbian capital, Belgrade, through Hungary and into Austria.

Boss still at large

The smugglers transported at least 1,800 people since February, raking in over 500,000 euros, according to Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

The overall head of the group is still at large and presumed to be in Serbia, officials have said.

Austria has become a key transit country for the refugees coming across the Mediterranean and via the so-called Balkan route from Turkey. In August, the authorities discovered 71 dead refugees in an abandoned truck on an Austrian highway, in a case which sparked Europe-wide outrage against human traffickers.

"The smugglers will continue to keep us busy in the coming months," Mikl-Leitner told reporters Thursday, urging the EU to establish "legal routes to Europe."

dj/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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