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Nigeria must stop voodoo sex trafficking gangs smuggling young girls to Europe

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voodoo sex trafficking gangs

Earlier this month, Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was forced to deny allegations it had hired witch doctors to help prevent young women being smuggled out of the country to work as prostitutes in Europe. While admitting the agency is attempting to engage with as many sections of society as possible in order to gain a better understanding of the role they play in the country’s massive problem with human trafficking and modern slavery, NAPTIP head of press Josiah Emerole claimed the organisation had merely spoken with witch doctors in an effort to dissuade them from placing voodoo curses on people smugglers’ victims. Juju oaths are routinely used by traffickers to make their victims believe they or a member of their family will come to some sort of serious harm or die if they fail to comply with their captors’ demands. Where the NAPTIP once arrested priests known to have carried out these types of rituals, the agency now seeks to “sensitise” them to the harm they cause by brainwashing trafficking victims, Emerole said. Whether or not this new approach will be of any benefit whatsoever remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the Nigerian government’s attempts to stop vulnerable young women being trafficked out of the country after being put through juju rituals have so far failed spectacularly.

For years now, law enforcement authorities across Europe and beyond have reported rescuing petrified young Nigerian women who have been put through horrific juju rituals before being smuggled into brothels and forced to sell their bodies for sex. Rather than declining, evidence suggests the rate at which traffickers are abusing these women is on the rise, fuelled in no small part by the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis. Only last week, police in Spain and the UK said they had arrested 12 people suspected of being members of an international human trafficking network that used juju magic to control the young women it exploited. The gang is said to have pulled out victims’ pubic hair and forced them to eat raw chicken as part of voodoo rituals before trafficking them to brothels mostly situated in Italy and Spain. No more than a few weeks earlier, Spanish police rescued 16 Nigerian women who had been trafficked into the country before being forced to work as prostitutes. Prior to being taken from their home country, the women were reported to have been put through ritualistic juju ceremonies, during which they were made to believe they would suffer death, insanity or serious illness if they disobeyed their captors, refused to sell their bodies or went to the police.

The fear these voodoo rituals instil is so strong and pervasive that victims have been known to escape protective custody after being rescued in a bid to return to their captors, petrified that breaking the oath they had sworn would damn either them or their close family members to death. The hold the curses have on victims can also make it incredibly difficult for police to build a case against members of people smuggling gangs, who use juju magic to convince the vulnerable young women they exploit that cooperating with authorities will result the oath they have sworn being broken. As a consequence, it is rare for members of Nigerian trafficking gangs to be brought to justice in Europe and other parts of the world in which they operate.

In a rare example of juju traffickers being successfully convicted, a UK court jailed two people smugglers for a total of 10 years for forcing their victims to work as prostitutes in November 2014. Lizzy Idahosa and her partner Jackson Omoruyi were found guilty of inciting prostitution and money laundering at Cardiff Crown Court. One of the pairs’ victims explained how she was cut with a razor, forced to drink dirty water and made to eat snakes and snails during a juju ritual designed to make her believe she would suffer illness, madness, infertility or death if she failed to comply with her captors’ demands. In August 2016, a Dutch court sentenced a Nigerian-born man to seven years behind bars after convicting him of leading an international prostitution ring that used voodoo magic to control its victims. Peter Kwame S and his associates trafficked underage Nigerian girls to the Netherlands after putting them through voodoo rituals in Nigeria to make them swear an oath that they would not go to the police.

The infrequency with which members of Nigerian juju trafficking gangs are brought to justice in Europe and beyond sadly makes these examples remarkable, and in no way indicative of the scale of the problem. In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration estimated that 80% of Nigerian teenage girls and young women who arrived in Italy that year were victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. It is likely many of them were destined to be transported onto brothels in other EU countries. While European law enforcement agencies work hard to safeguard young women and girls unfortunate enough to fall victim to these gangs, the very nature of the “curses” placed upon them make it very difficult to bring traffickers to justice. As such, it is now vital that greater efforts are made to stop the problem at source. Instead of attempting to “sensitise” witch doctors to the harm they are causing by placing juju curses on traffickers’ victims, Nigerian lawmakers should concentrate their efforts on pursing the prosecution of everybody involved in this barbaric trade at their end.

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Convicted felon arrested in LA after police seize 553 illegally-owned guns

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553 illegally-owned guns

Police in Los Angeles have discovered a massive haul of 553 illegally-owned firearms inside the home of a convicted felon after receiving information from one of his neighbours.

The huge arsenal of illicit weapons was found after a two-day search of a property inhabited by 60-year-old Manuel Fernandez, who was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and a being felon in possession of ammunition.

An initial search by local police of Fernandez’s home in the town of Agua Dulce resulted in the discovery of 432 firearms.

A follow-up raid conducted at the property in cooperation with federal agents resulted in the seizure of an additional 91 guns, along with computers, mobile phones, and hard drives.

In a separate swoop on a second address, 30 illegal firearms belonging to a female associate of Fernandez were confiscated.

Commenting on the discovery of the haul, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said: “This case is a testament to the community’s involvement in reducing crime and taking guns out of the hands of criminals.

“The swift response of our Palmdale Sheriff’s Station personnel and the assistance provided by our partners at the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) showed the positive result of our campaign ‘See Something, Say Something’.

“We are proud of the relationship we have built in the Antelope Valley area as we continue to build trust with the communities we serve.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called for assistance from ATF investigators due to the high number of firearms that were recovered during the operation.

They helped trace the purchase history of the guns, and will further assist in the case by providing resources as it progresses through the courts.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, representing Los Angeles County’s 5th District, commented: “I applaud the Palmdale Sheriff’s station, the City’s Partners Against Crime and the Department of Justice who worked in conjunction on this effective operation and massive seizure of illegal firearms.”

The US Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign encourages members of the public to remain alert to and report any potentially suspicious activity they may see to local police.

The campaign is primarily intended to raise awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and is said to have played a key role in disputing a number of potential bomb attacks.

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Italian police target organised metal thieves in EU-wide operation

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organised metal thieves

Police in Italy last month led a major EU-wide crackdown on organised metal theft.

Supported by Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) and the informal Network Against Metal Theft, the operation targeted thieves in Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Britain.

Across the 12 countries that participated in the one-day effort, law enforcement officials ran checks on nearly 54,900 individuals, more than 42,200 vehicles, almost 8,000 environmental companies and scrap dealers, 589 border areas and 2,572 other hotspots, including harbours and rail transport sites.

The crackdown resulted in the arrest of 117 suspects alleged to have committed serious crimes, who were detained alongside more than 1,300 individuals who were convicted of minor offences and released.

Investigators identified a further 1,659 crimes, including 75 cases of theft, 60 of knowingly receiving stolen goods, 137 environmental crimes, 1,387 miscellaneous offences, and 2,763 administrative violations.

Officers seized nearly 358 tonnes of metal worth an estimated €890 000 ($1 million) during the operation, including almost 93 tonnes of copper worth around €540,000, and 983 solar panels and 140 vehicles.

In a statement, Europol said: “This action sends a strong signal from law enforcement authorities to metal theft gangs operating all over Europe and to the many scrapyards that accept all kinds of metal with ‘no questions asked’.

“The phenomenon of copper theft has taken a European dimension and it often affects companies operating in the transport, energy, and telecommunications sectors, disrupting essential public services and leading to significant economic and social repercussions and possible implications for security.”

The operation, during which investigators carried out real-time cross-checks against Europol databases, was conducted within the framework of EMPACT, an ad hoc management environment to develop activities in order to achieve pre-set goals in Europol’s fight against serious international and organised crime.

In May 2016, Europol revealed that police in Romania and France had taken part in an operation that resulted in the disruption of a major Romanian metal theft gang operating in France.

The effort involved 10 simultaneous raids across the country in the provinces of Ilfov, Teleorman and Galati.

Three suspects were arrested and a large quantity of evidence was seized during the raids, including 300kgs of iron alloy, cash and documents.

Earlier this month, China border force agents arrested 245 people on suspicion of being members of a scrap steel smuggling ring who were said to have illegally sold more than 2.4 million tones of metal to buyers across Southeast Asia.

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How paedophiles, sex traffickers and blackmailers freely use the surface web to exploit victims

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paedophiles, sex traffickers and blackmailers

Drug dealers who once felt safe to operate on the dark web have found to their cost over recent years that hidden online marketplaces may not offer the anonymity and protection they once thought they might. The closure of the likes of Hansa and AlphaBay and the arrest of illicit marketplace admins and moderators such as bearded hipster Gal Vallerius and AlphaBay boss Alexandre Cazes have prompted many dealers to abandon the dark web in favour of surface web platforms and applications that ironically seem to offer more protection from the prying eyes of police and other law enforcement authorities.

Paedophiles and child porn distributors have also had their fingers burned on the dark web following the infiltration by police of the world’s largest child porn hidden website, prompting them and other sex offenders to focus on ways of using surface web tools to facilitate their crimes. As has proven to be the case with drugs, weapons and human trafficking, big technology firms have done little to rid their networks of criminals who carry out a range social media-enabled sex offences, whether they involve children or adults. A failure to crack down on this type of activity is resulting in misery for victims across the globe, some of whom end up taking their own lives as a result of being targeted by online predators.

Live child sex abuse streaming

The spread of cheap, fast and reliable internet access in countries in Southeast Asia and South America has resulted in the rise of livestreamed child sex abuse shows, during which paedophiles from across the globe can send instructions to vulnerable young victims who are forced to carry out the degrading acts they request in front of webcams. Taking advantage of child exploitation laws that are much laxer than those that typically apply in most western countries, Southeast Asian and South American sex trafficking gangs lure young people with the promise of well-paid legitimate work, only to compel them to perform for foreign child abusers in squalid cybersex dens. These gangs are able to use surface web encrypted messaging apps such as Skype and WhatsApp to broadcast their livestreams, safe in the knowledge that the content they produce will be inaccessible to global law enforcement agencies. Even if the paedophiles who pay to watch the material they make are caught, sex trafficking gangs in these regions know the likelihood of them facing justice is slim.

Sextortion

Over the past few years, sextortion blackmailers have increasingly targeted social media users looking to meet potential partners and engage in sexual activity online. Often working from organised call centre-style environments, sextortion scammers contact potential victims on social media platforms such as Skype and Facebook, typically pretending to be an attractive young woman. After building a rapport, the fraudsters convince their victims to send them compromising images of themselves, either of in a state of undress or committing a sex act. As soon as they come into possession of the material they are looking for, sextortion scammers immediately turn nasty, demanding payment in exchange for not distributing the incriminating material to victims’ friends and family members. A number of UK victims are known to have taken their lives after being blackmailed by sextortion scammers. In a separate form of sextortion, paedophiles target mostly young women and girls to convince them to send naked pictures, and then blackmail them into performing degrading sex acts in front of a webcam for their own gratification. Both the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US and Britain’s National Crime Agency have recorded marked increases in reported cases of sextortion in recent years.

Online grooming

Paedophiles have long used the internet to both distribute indecent images of children and target victims to physically abuse, but the growing proliferation of social media platforms, smartphone apps and connected devices is offering them a much wider surface over which to operate – an opportunity they are taking full advantage of. As well as the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, online predators exploit messaging apps including Kik, musical.ly and Ask.fm to target potential victims, typically pretending to be young people themselves. In March, the UK’s National Crime Agency warned that paedophiles were targeting children on the hugely popular Fortnite game via the app’s text chat feature. Earlier this week, a British mother revealed how her son had been sexually abused after being groomed by a paedophile via his games console.

While big technology firms occasionally pay lip service to the protection of children and vulnerable people online, they spend a very small portion of their vast profits on making their platforms a less welcoming environment for paedophiles, sex traffickers and sextortion blackmailers. All the while they refuse to take any real action, it will fall to law enforcement authorities to do what they can to diminish the advantage online surface web tools have handed to these types of offenders. With this being an all but impossible task, the surface web is likely to remain a much more fruitful hunting ground for sexual predators than the dark web until governments force big tech companies to get their house in order and stop profiting from the suffering of the victims of online sexual exploitation.

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