LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Spanish police have rescued 39 Nigerian girls and women from a notorious sex trafficking ring who kept them in squalid cave-like houses and forced them into prostitution after threatening them with black magic, Europol announced on Thursday.
The operation, carried out with British and Nigerian law enforcement agencies, led to the arrests of 89 people including a well-known Nigerian DJ, according to a Europol statement.
It said the Nigerian crime ring was linked to the Eiye Confraternity - a network that Spanish police have previously compared to the mafioso in Chicago in the 1930s.
The victims, many under the age of 18, were believed to have undergone voodoo “juju” rituals in Nigeria to force them to comply with orders, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
After being trafficked to Spain via Libya and Italy, the women and girls were kept in cave houses in the southeastern city of Almeria, it said.
They were then forced into prostitution to pay off “debts” of 30,000 euros ($36,900) each that they were told they owed the organization for their journey to Europe.
Europol said the DJ had helped transfer the victims to Spain and “organize sexual exploitation” in several provinces.
It said bank accounts used by the network to launder more than 300,000 euros had been blocked.
“(This) was a highly organized crime gang, exploiting young woman for lengthy periods of time, keeping them in horrendous conditions where they knew there would be no escape,” the NCA’s deputy director Tom Dowdall said in a statement.
Europol said raids were carried out across 11 Spanish cities last November but the operation could not be announced until Thursday to avoid jeopardizing investigations.
The NCA said police had also arrested a Nigerian woman in Manchester this year who they believe was controlling some of the victims in Spain. She is in custody awaiting extradition to Spain, it said.
Europol said Eiye operated in clandestine groups all over the world, funding the brotherhood in Nigeria through both legal and illicit activities, particularly through human trafficking.
Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.