Police in several European countries have arrested dozens of suspected Nigerian mafia members as the crime organisation spreads across Italy and the wider continent.
Authorities in Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Malta conducted the international operation, which was directed at two major Nigerian mafia groups. Police accuse the gangs of people-trafficking, drug trafficking, extortion, and prostitution, Agenzia Giornalistica Italia reports.
According to the news service, arrests in Italy took place across the country in Puglia, Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Lazio, Abruzzo, Marche, Emilia Romagna, and Veneto.
The District Anti-Mafia Directorate of the Bari Prosecutor’s Office has described the Nigerian mafia as “tribal and ruthless”. It noted that the Nigerians have managed to expand significantly in northern Italy and even in the south and Sicily, where they now compete with traditional mafia groups.
The two main groups in Italy are the Supreme Eye and the Black Ax, the latter of which is also becoming more influential in countries like Sweden, according to a report from October.
Nigerians have lived in Italy since at least the 1980s, and the first arrest of a Nigerian for drug dealing occurred in 1987. Since then, the Nigerian mafia has rapidly grown and established major presences in areas like Palermo and Cagliari.
The mafia is also known to use “juju” — a form of voodoo practised in Nigeria to better control drug traffickers and prostitutes, most of whom are imported into Europe from Africa using counterfeit documents or illegal migration.
Drugs are also a significant source of revenue, with the Nigerian mafia using a tactic of having many smugglers transporting small amounts of drugs each to mitigate losses for any of the criminals who are caught by authorities.
The Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DIA) also expressed concerns earlier this year about the possibility of radical Islamic groups like Boko Haram radicalising members of the Nigerian mafia.