Italian police have arrested a Somali man suspected of organizing a migrant boat that capsized and killed hundreds of people off the island of Lampedusa last month. An alleged accomplice has also been detained.
Italian police said on Friday that the Somali man now being held at a facility in Sicily was suspected of having been one of the human traffickers, who organized the ship that capsized off the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3, killing 366 people.
Most of the 155 survivors were Eritreans.
Police identified the suspect as 34-year-old Mouhamud Elmi Muhidin, who they said had been spotted by survivors of the shipwreck in an overcrowded migrant center on Lampedusa where he had been living. A Palestinian man, suspected of being a co-conspirator, was also arrested. The boat's Tunisian captain was arrested immediately after the accident and is facing charges of manslaughter.
Some of the survivors reportedly attacked both men after they were spotted and police said that had they not stepped in to arrest them, they could have been lynched.
Police said Muhidin was facing a series of charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault, people trafficking and criminal association with the goal of aiding illegal immigration.
"From what survivors of the October 3 shipwreck told us, we found out that all female passengers were raped by members of the criminal gang behind the migrant trade," the police chief in the Sicilian town of Agrigento, Corrado Empoli, told reporters.
Italy has pledged to crack down on people smuggling rings believed to be responsible for a sharp upsurge in arrivals of asylum seekers on its shores. More than 35,000 migrants have arrived on Italy's coast so far this year.
pfd/lw (dpa, AP, AFP)