BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top prosecutor said Monday she has been told that smugglers’ boats bringing migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe are also carrying Islamic State group fighters.
Michele Coninsx, head of the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, told reporters she received the information as part of the organization’s efforts to help EU nations jointly respond to illegal immigration, terrorism and cybercrime.
Coninsx said the agency’s coordination efforts are ongoing and she couldn’t divulge what information EU nations had provided.
She told The Associated Press it isn’t yet clear what problem the reported infiltration of Islamic militants may pose for European law enforcement. But she said groups like Islamic State are also using proceeds from people trafficking to fund terrorism.
Eurojust, she said, is one of several EU agencies mobilized to shut down traffickers’ operations.
“We’re going after the criminals. We’re going after the money,” said Coninsx, a career prosecutor from Belgium who is also Eurojust’s chief official for terrorism investigations.
“It is an alarming situation because we see obviously that these smugglings are meant to sometimes finance terrorism, that these smugglings are used sometimes to have and ensure exfiltrations and infiltrations of members of Islamic State.”
Paying thousands of dollars for a shot at reaching Europe, tens of thousands of people have left Libya in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats or dinghies over the past two years. An unknown number have drowned. This year, about 70,000 migrants have been rescued, many by an EU-led naval operation.
Coninsx said an Italian official told Eurojust three weeks ago the flow of migrants has risen fivefold.
Often the smugglers mingle with the migrants in hopes they won’t be caught – although dozens have been arrested in Sicily and other parts of southern Italy.