Two men arrested in Italy this week were buying firearms to defend their turf in Calais as they fought off rivals for the multi-million pound business of sending illegal immigrants to Britain.
Afghan Gulistan Ahmadzai, 29, and Pakistani Zulfiqar Amjad, 24, were arrested on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration, while Hakim Nasiri, 23, from Afghanistan, was arrested on terrorism charges and is suspected of conducting surveillance on potential targets in London’s Docklands.
All three appeared in court in Bari, in southern Italy, on Thursday.
While a judge confirmed the arrests of Ahmadzai and Amjad on people trafficking charges, he released from prison Nasiri, saying the evidence presented so far was not serious enough to keep him behind bars. “The whole business has been blown out of proportion,” the suspect’s lawyer, Adriano Pallesca, told the court. “From the evidence presented against Nasiri, there is nothing concrete that connects him to international terrorism.”
But Roberto Rossi, the chief prosecutor in the investigation, said he would appeal the decision of the Bari court.
A 213-page arrest warrant issued by the Italian authorities, seen by The Daily Telegraph, reveals that Amjad and Ahmadzai were allegedly involved in smuggling migrants from countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan into the UK from Calais.
They criss-crossed the continent, collecting migrants and refugees in Greece and Hungary and bringing them to France and Belgium. The smugglers feared competition from rival traffickers and, in telephone conversations intercepted by the Italian police, discussed how to acquire weapons in order to ward off the competition.
The smugglers wanted to procure firearms because they faced a “critical situation” with rivals, Italian prosecutors said in the arrest document. Ahmadzai, who claims on his Facebook profile that he attended Croydon College in London, was wiretapped earlier this month when he called an unnamed contact and asked if he could buy two pistols.
He said other smugglers – whom he referred to as “dogs” and “sons of donkeys” – were trying to muscle in on his business. “I need two pieces (firearms) quickly, you just have to find them and I’ll come and get them. I need them for a really important job,” he told his contact. “Sure, I can get plenty,” the contact said, adding that the firearms would cost between €500 euros and €1,500, depending on the model.
Ahmadzai was allegedly part of an extensive network of Afghan, Turkish, Pakistani and Kurdish smugglers who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds bringing migrants from Turkey and Greece to Calais.
In another wiretapped conversation, he said he was prepared to defend his turf with violence. He told his uncle that he had threatened a rival trafficker. “I told him – you come near me, I’ll shoot you in the head.”
Ahmadzai boasted in one intercepted conversation: “I’m not lying, I worked 20 days in France and I earned £8,000.”
During a conversation in March, he referred to sending a group of migrants to “Kandahar” – which the Italian police believe was code for a location in the UK.
The smugglers referred to migrants and refugees as “sheep”, “pigeons” or simply “things” and charged them €3,000 to €4,000 each to be brought to Europe from countries like Pakistan and Iran.
In another intercepted call, a smuggler in Iran told Ahmadzai that he was sending four or five migrants through Europe to Calais. “Do they want to claim asylum in France?” Ahmadzai asked. “No, they want to go to England,” the other trafficker said.
The smugglers complained of the accord struck between the EU and Turkey in March to stop boats full of refugees and asylum seekers crossing from the Turkish coast to Greece’s eastern Aegean islands.
“The crossings by sea have been completely blocked,” said Zulfiqar, one of the three men arrested in Italy this week. He complained that local smugglers were now charging 2,000 euros per migrant for the crossing from Turkey to Greece, whereas a few months ago they had charged just 200 euros.
The traffickers also complained that the illegal smuggling business had been compromised by attacks carried out by Isis in France and Belgium. “These bombings create problems for us! … These Isis bastards who launch attacks,” Ahmadzai told another smuggler.