The suspected Eritrean kingpin, who was extradited from Sudan to Italy, has told authorities he is not the man they are looking for. Prosecutors identified the man as Medhane Yehdego Mered, an alleged human trafficker.
The suspect was identified by Italian authorities as Medhane Yehdego Mered, an alleged mastermind of a migrant smuggling ring that has shipped thousands of people from the Horn of Africa to Italy via Libya.
The man was brought to Italy from Sudan earlier this week under great fanfare.
"It is clear for him he is not the man who is smuggling or trafficking humans," Michele Calantropo, the defendant's lawyer, said outside a prison in Rome on Friday.
Prosecutors from Sicily admitted Thursday they were looking into the matter after reports of mistaken identity surfaced.
Calantropo said no requests for DNA samples or fingerprint verifications had yet been made. The lawyer, however, will request documents from the suspect's relatives in Norway and Sudan.
A case of mistaken identity?
Mered was flown to Italy on Monday night after being arrested in May by Sudanese intelligence services in Khartoum.
But within hours of his arrival in Italy, the media reported that the arrested man might be an Eritrean refugee with a similar first name, Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, who had been living in Sudan.
Calantropo has requested the authorities to release the accused from jail, arguing he is not a threat.
The lawyer also said the client does not speak Arabic, as Mered is known to do, and has never visited Libya.
Mered is 35 years old, whereas Berhe is 27, according to an Eritrean broadcaster.
Known as "The General," Mered has been on Europe's most wanted list since 2015. His capture, which involved the support of Italian and British law enforcement, is the first time Italy has been able to nab a top human trafficker in Africa.
Italian police said Mered was in a "senior position in a criminal network operating in several continents," but particularly in northern Europe.
Italy has been at the forefront of the migrant crisis hitting Europe. Since the beginning of 2014 nearly 350,000 migrants have embarked on rickety boats across the Mediterranean from Libya, trying to reach Europe.
Most migrants using Libya as a springboard to reach Europe come from sub-Saharan Africa.
shs/kms (AP, AFP)