5:16 pm - Tuesday May 24, 1368

Five men charged with murder of 200 migrants drowned in the Med [theguardian]

Suspected traffickers arrested by Italian police after boat tragedy allegedly threatened those on board with knives and beat them with belts

 The five men arrested on suspicion of multiple homicide and human trafficking in the presumed drowning of more than 200 people, disembark a ship in Palermo, Italy

According to witness accounts gathered by police, the suspected traffickers – two Libyans, two Algerians and a Tunisian aged 21 to 24 – threatened the migrants on board with knives and beat them with belts to control them.

About 100 African migrants now presumed dead were allegedly held in the hull of the doomed boat, survivors told police. The traffickers allegedly said those passengers, who had paid less for their crossing than others, could be kept there for three days. When the hull started filling with water, the traffickers beat them back and ordered other passengers to sit on the hatch of the hull to stop them getting out.

According to police, the suspects, thought to be part of a Libyan-based trafficking ring, used their knives to cut marks on the heads of migrants who disobeyed their orders – especially the sub-Saharan Africans – while Arabs were beaten with belts.

According to Italian newspaper La Stampa, the cost of the trip ranged between $1,200 and $1,800 (£775-£1,160), with life jackets costing extra.

The men were arrested after 373 survivors of the tragedy, including small children, were brought to Sicily on Thursday and more information emerged about the traffickers on board.

Up to 700 people were thought to be on board the wooden boat, which is believed to have capsized after passengers rushed to one side when they saw the approach of two small rescue boats dispatched by the Irish rescue vessel LÉ Niamh.

Migrant Report noted on Thursday that the Italian coastguard vessel, Mimbelli, then sent a helicopter to drop life rafts at the site, a quick response that saved hundreds of lives.

The traffickers were not the first to be arrested by police in Italy, where the surge in migration and illegal activity has turned prosecutors more accustomed to mafia cases into experts in human trafficking.

In April, police in Sicily arrested 15 people for allegedly throwing 12 migrants overboard in what appeared to be a Muslim assault against Christians. Weeks later, police arrested two other smugglers who survived a deadly sinking – the worst incident of its kind in the Mediterranean – which killed 800 people.

The two suspects, Tunisian Mohammed Ali Malek, believed to be the captain of the vessel, and Syrian national Mahmud Bikhit, 25, were among 28 survivors of the shipwreck.


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