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Britain arrests man suspected of organising Mediterranean migrant crossings

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LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Thursday it had arrested an Egyptian man suspected of coordinating the smuggling of thousands of people across the Mediterranean from north Africa to Italy.

The NCA said it believed the 40-year-old man, detained in London on Wednesday, was working with people smuggling networks in north Africa to organise boats for migrants and then communicating with criminal associates during the crossings.

“We suspect this man has been running his operation from the UK, and masterminding the smuggling of thousands of migrants,” Darren Barr, Senior Investigating Officer at the NCA, said in a statement.

“The type of boats organised crime groups use for crossings are death traps …  We will continue to share intelligence and take action with partners to prevent crossings and arrest people smugglers here and overseas.”

The NCA, which as been working with Italian Guardia di Finanza as part of the investigation, cited a crossing in October last year where more than 640 migrants were rescued by the Italian authorities after they attempted to cross in a wooden boat from Libya.

Another in December saw 265 migrants rescued by the Italian coastguard from a 20-metre fishing boat found adrift in the Mediterranean after leaving Libya, the NCA said, while in April two search and rescue operations which followed distress calls to the coastguard found more than 600 migrants on each boat.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Michael Holden)

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