Italian police arrest 30 suspected Nigerian gang members

ROME, April 26 (Reuters) - Italian police said on Monday they had arrested 30 people suspected of belonging to the Nigerian Black Axe mafia gang that has been operating in many regions of the country.

All those seized were Nigerian nationals, with arrests carried out across Italy. The suspects face almost 100 charges, including mafia association, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, prostitution and internet fraud, police said.

Among those detained was the Black Axe’s alleged leader in Italy -- a 35-year-old man who lived in L’Aquila, in the central Abruzzo region. His name was not given.

“There is evidence that the members had a direct connection with the Nigerian gang, drawing on the same vocabulary, symbols and affiliation rituals,” police said.

The Black Axe group emerged from Nigeria in the 1990s, carrying out ritual murders, mutilation and rape before developing a powerful international network.

Police said most of the suspected crimes were committed on the Internet, including using bitcoins on the dark web to purchase the numbers of cloned credit cards, which were used for online shopping sprees.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Italy was showing its determination to tackle organised crime.

“This proves the ability of the judiciary and police forces to fight against old and new mafia groups which are trying to extend their criminal reach and expand their business,” Lamorgese said in a statement. (Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Ed Osmond)