More than 30 suspects were apprehended last week in a multinational operation targeting a highly violent criminal group from the Western Balkans. The group was involved in large-scale drug and weapon trafficking across Europe.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the EU law enforcement agency, Europol, simultaneous raids were conducted across Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Germany to apprehend the members of this gang.
During the operation, 37 suspects were arrested, with 15 of them being apprehended on Wednesday, Europol said on Thursday.
The agency also confirmed that one of the suspects, identified as “the gang’s ringleader—a Bosnian citizen considered a high-value target by Europol,” had already been imprisoned in Italy to serve a four-year sentence.
Bosnian media identified the ringleader as Dino Muzaferović, also known as Cezar (Caesar), from Velika Kladuša in the western part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the Croatian/EU border. Muzaferović was arrested in Germany in December of last year, as reported by Sarajevo daily Dnevni avaz.
Europol alleged that Muzaferović orchestrated the gang’s criminal activities from behind bars.
“The investigators were able to uncover how this individual continued to orchestrate his gang’s criminal activities from his prison cell. From there, he is believed to have regularly given orders and instructions to his subordinates on matters related to the trafficking of drugs and firearms,” read the statement.
Throughout the operation, several locations were searched, including a prison cell in Belgium, a garage in the Netherlands used for storing cocaine, and various premises in Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina where drugs, firearms, and explosives were discovered.
Europol also reported that the operation resulted in the seizure of over 15 kilograms of cocaine, 11 kilograms of heroin, three kilograms of amphetamines, seven kilograms of marijuana, and 10 kilograms of hashish.
Additionally, nearly 150,000 euros (US$160,800) in cash, 18 firearms (including two machine guns), 2,512 pieces of ammunition, 500 grams of TNT with remote detonators, law enforcement uniforms, and fake IDs were confiscated.
The operation was carried out in response to intelligence obtained by Europol following the recent seizure of three encrypted communication platforms used by criminals—Encrochat, Sky ECC, and ANOM. These seizures revealed the prevalence of Balkan criminals in the global criminal landscape.
In response to this intelligence, Europol established the Operational Task Force Balkan Cartel, which brings together investigators from Europe and around the world to effectively tackle the emerging threat from this region.
Europol highlighted that previous actions by the Task Force had already led to the dismantling of the largest drug trafficking organization in the Balkans in an operation in Serbia earlier this month.
“The work of the Operational Task Force continues, and further results are expected,” concluded the EU law enforcement agency.