Central American authorities have reportedly dismantled a human trafficking network dedicated to smuggling illegal migrants into the United States from terror-linked countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The foreign authorities were reportedly backed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Many of the trafficked migrants came from Nepal, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, Congo, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Senegal, India, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, China and Bangladesh — in addition to countries in Central American, the Caribbean, and South America, reports La Prensa Grafica.
Some of those nations have been officially linked to terrorism by the United States and are known as special interest countries, according to a previous Breitbart News report.
The U.S. military has warned that jihadist groups could exploit human trafficking networks in Latin America to infiltrate the United States.
Guatemala’s Secretary General of the Public Ministry Mayra Véliz told reporters that the investigation into the smuggling ring began in March 2015 based on information provided by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.
Officials have indicated that the trafficking network was well-organized and capable of smuggling up to 150 people at a time.
“It is perhaps the most powerful migrant trafficking organization in the region,” said Mauricio Boraschi, a prosecutor in Costa Rica who investigates organized crime, according to Spanish news agency EFE.
Central American officials referred to the trafficked migrants as victims.
Under the effort, dubbed “Operation Mesoamerica,” Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala simultaneously launched coordinated raids at the end of June targeting the trafficking gang.
The Central American authorities had the support of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the United States, notes EFE.
At least 29 people from across Central America were arrested on June 28 for their involvement in the human trafficking network, which primarily transported migrants of Asian or African nationalities.
The network’s alleged ringleader, Luis Leonardo Mejía Pasapera, alias “Leo,” was arrested by Guatemalan authorities along with eight other suspects. Meanwhile, the remaining 20 were reportedly detained in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama.
Among the arrestees were employees of Central American border agencies who provided false documents to the illegal immigrants, notes La Pagina.
Guatemalan authorities noted that there are still suspected members of the trafficking network who have yet to be arrested.
The illegal immigrants were moved from Brazil, through Central America and into the United Sates, according to authorities.
Investigators explained that many of the illegal migrants met in Dubai where they were provided with documents to enter Brazil. From there, they boarded planes to Colombia before entering neighboring Panama by land.
The trafficking gang then smuggled the migrants through Central America, using either Pacific or Atlantic sea routes.
Once they reached Mexico, the migrants were used as mules by criminal groups to smuggle drugs into the United States, according to Costa Rican authorities.
Each migrant reportedly paid between $7,000 to $25,000 for the entire trip into the United States.
The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala reportedly said Operation Mesoamerica was intended “to break a chain of illegal human trafficking.”
“As of now, it is unclear what role US authorities played in either coordinating or assisting in Operation Mesoamerica,” reports InSight Crime. “The only information that has been reported so far is that the US Embassy in Guatemala alerted local authorities to the existence of the migrant smuggling network in early 2015, and that ICE provided support to the operation in El Salvador.”
Operation Mesoamerica “has been a success,” Cost Rican Attorney General Jorge Chavarria told reporters, noting that it shows Central American countries can work together.
“This is the most important operation that has been conducted in the region against human trafficking,” he added.
Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby reported in July 2013 of warnings from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that Mexican cartels and area street gangs were willing “conduits” for African and Asian migrants to illegally enter the United States. Darby reported:
“The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently released a report, “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean,” that identifies both Mexican cartels and street gangs as conduits for individuals from Africa and Asia entering the U.S illegally. The report identifies the Islamic terrorist haven of Somalia as being one of the nations from which the illegal U.S. bound border-crossers are originating.”