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Italian police smash smuggling network suspected of trafficking Islamist extremists into Europe

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Italian police smash smuggling network

Police in Italy yesterday arrested 15 men suspected of running a Mediterranean people smuggling network that brought jihadists into Europe, according to a report from Italian newspaper Il Giornale.

Italian investigators said they detained the men after receiving a tip-off about the network they are accused of running from a reformed Islamist extremist.

The group is said to have been headed up by a Daesh supporter who posted propaganda relating to the jihadi organisation on his Facebook profile.

He remains at large and is wanted by police on suspicion of inciting terrorist acts.

The arrested suspects were held in the cities of Palermo, Trapani, Caltanissetta and Brescia on Wednesday, and were charged with multiple offences relating to illegal immigration, human trafficking and terrorism.

Officials believe the network may have been responsible for trafficking a number extremists into Europe.

The majority of those arrested were said to be Tunisian nationals, but police said two Italians were among their number.

As well as the Daesh-supporting leader of the group, Italian police are also looking a number of other suspects who are wanted for questioning in relation to human trafficking offences and the smuggling of cigarettes into Europe.

The former jihadi who informed on the network said he did so to prevent the establishment of an army of “kamikaze” Islamist extremists in Italy.

The informant is said to have offered information to police while he was serving a sentence in an Italian jail in 2016.

According to the informant’s testimony, the gang used speedboats to smuggle small groups of migrants across the Mediterranean from Tunisia, often carrying with them contraband such as cannabis and illicit cigarettes.

Italian investigators documented five trafficking missions before moving into dismantle the network, but it is thought the actual number of crossings the gang made was much higher.

News of the network’s activities will heighten concerns that jihadists could be sneaking into Europe disguised as refugees.

In January last year, the Guardian reported that Interpol had warned that as many as 50 Daesh fighters had managed to enter Italy after crossing the Mediterranean on people smugglers’ boats.

“According to the information obtained in the field of international cooperation, the Tunisian citizens are linked to Isis/Daesh and would have reached Europe aboard unidentified boats,” an Interpol document seen by the Guardian said.

Worries over the possibility of Daesh militants entering Europe have increased over recent months after the collapse of the group’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

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Customs officers in Taiwan catch woman smuggling dozens of gerbils strapped to her legs

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smuggling dozens of gerbils

Coastguard officials on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen have caught a woman attempting to smuggle 24 gerbils in small bags strapped to legs.

Reportedly returning from a trip to mainland China, the 60-year-old Taiwanese woman was pulled aside for questioning after customs officers noticed that she walking in a strange way and acting nervously.

During a search of the woman, officials were surprised to find the animals individually wrapped in plastic bags that had been strapped to her legs and concealed underneath a long skirt.

The woman, identified by local media outlets only as Wu, is said to have claimed that she smuggled the gerbils into the country on behalf of friends having purchased them from a pet shop in China.

She is reported to have confessed to buying each gerbil at a price of 50 Chinese yuan ($7.38) for a male, and 150 Chinese yuan for a female.

In Taiwan, the going rate for a male gerbil is the equivalent of around $16, while a female can fetch up to double that amount.

Wu is said to have told investigators that she was paid a fee of 60 Chinese yuan to smuggle each gerbil into Taiwan.

Noting how the woman was unable to identify who she was smuggling the animals for, coastguard officials said she may have been testing security procedures at the port on behalf of a smuggling gang that may be planning to sneak other contraband past customs officials.

After being questioned by coastguard investigators, the woman was passed to the local prosecutor’s office and charged with violating Taiwan’s Infectious Animal Disease Prevention and Control Act.

The gerbils she attempted to sneak into the country were later destroyed.

In a similar incident earlier this month, customs officers caught a man attempting to cross from Malaysia into Singapore with four kittens stuffed down the front of his trousers.

In a statement issued on Facebook, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore said: “On 2 January, ICA officers detected four live kittens concealed in the pants of a 45-year-old male Singaporean in a Singapore-registered car at Tuas Checkpoint.

“Officers were prompted to conduct further checks when they heard ‘meowing’ sounds coming from a bulge in his pants.

“The case was referred to Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for investigation. The kittens are now under the care and quarantine of AVA.”

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Al Jazeera-owned beIN Media Group publishes sports content piracy allegations against Saudi rival

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sports content piracy

The Qatar-based beIN Media Group has published “dossier of evidence” on a new website that it claims demonstrates how Saudi Arabia-based pirate TV channel beoutQ and Riyadh-headquartered satellite provider Arabsat are stealing its content and repackaging it as their own.

beIN, a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network that runs a global network of sports channels, claims the website outlines how the two organisations have stolen its sports and entertainment content on “an industrial scale” over the past 18 months, detailing all the commercial rights that have been infringed since beoutQ was launched in August 2017.

According to beIN, its rival has “brazenly” stolen its original coverage of top sporting events from around the globe and repackaged it as its own, even producing its own beoutQ-branded set-top boxes.

The website, which beIN said will be regularly updated with details of legal challenges it launches against its rival, outlines how beoutQ has illegally broadcast premium sports and entertainment content worth billions of dollars since it was launched, stealing other media groups’ content as well as its own.

It claims that while beoutQ began life as a website that was geo-blocked to Saudi Arabia, it has grown to become “the most sophisticated piracy operation that the world has ever seen”.

beIN alleges that its Saudi rival inserts its own logos and branding over its own and other media firms’ content, allowing it to sell subscriptions, carrying separate advertising, and add its own commentary.

The website claims that beoutQ illegally broadcasts live sports content every day, stolen from rights holders including Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League, LaLiga and other football leagues, as well as the NFL, the NBA, world tennis, Formula 1 and the Olympics.

Evidence published on the website links beoutQ with Saud al-Qahtani, an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been implicated in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Commenting on the allegations featured on the new website, Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO if the beIN Media Group, said: “For the past 18 months beoutQ has brazenly stolen on a daily basis the commercial rights of almost every major sports rights holder and every movie studio around the world; and attempted to sabotage our broadcast business at the same time.

“We have a very simple message on behalf of the whole sports and entertainment industry: we will not cease our fight against this unprecedented piracy operation until it is eradicated.”

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants accused of helping drugs gang smuggle heroin and crystal meth

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants

Two flight attendants working for Malaysian airline Malindo Air were among eight people arrested by police in Australia over the past two weeks during an investigation into an organised crime network suspected to be behind the importation of heroin and methamphetamine worth an estimated A$20 million ($14.35 million) into the country.

The two cabin crew members are suspected of having links to a Melbourne-based Vietnamese gang involved in the importation of high-purity heroin and methamphetamine into Australia from Malaysia.

In a series of raids on a number of properties in Melbourne that resulted in the arrest of the suspects, investigators from a coalition of Australian law enforcement agencies seized 6kgs of high-grade heroin with an estimated street value of A$14.5 million, and 8kgs of methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4 million.

Police also confiscated 0.5kgs of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, a large quantity of cash, and a number of cars, including a Porsche Macan.

Six of the suspects were remanded into custody after appearing before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where they were charged with a multiple offences including importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs, and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air, said it had suspended one of the cabin crew members with immediate effect pending termination.

In a statement, the company said: “Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard…

“As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel.”

Congratulating the officers who took part in the operation, Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said its success sent a strong message that Australian law enforcement agencies remain focused on disrupting major drug trafficking conspiracies.

“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.

“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms.

“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.”

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