Spain seizes drugs shipment to Libya in global operation

AFP , Tuesday 11 Oct 2016

Spanish police said Tuesday they seized nearly 20 tonnes of hashish in a boat heading to Libya, as part of a global operation targeting the financing of armed groups in North Africa and the Middle East.

With the help of Europe's police agency Europol and air support from Italian police, Spanish forces intercepted the boat registered under the Panama flag off the coast of Almeria in Spain's southeast on September 23.

They said all crew members were detained -- 11 Ukrainians and one Uzbek.

The Guardia Civil police force said the boat was intercepted as part of an operation launched by Spanish, Moroccan, French, Italian and Greek authorities, with support from the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

A total of seven boats have been caught in the multi-country operation, two of them carrying weapons and five full of hashish.

They had all departed from Turkey.

Investigators believe the drugs would have been used to buy weapons.

"This trafficking is being used to finance insurgents in existing conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East," Javier Rogero, lieutenant colonel at the Guardia Civil, told reporters.

He would not be drawn on which groups the drugs and weapons were benefiting, but said police were "convinced... that they also finance jihadist terrorism."

Of the two boats intercepted with weapons on board, one of them was sailing under the Bolivian flag and the other was registered in Togo.

Altogether, they carried 11,400 long guns, more than a million cartridges and ten tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make explosives.

The boat registered in Togo was heading to Misrata on Libya's northwestern coast.

The intended recipients are unclear but Misrata is home to powerful militias who were among the forces that seized the capital Tripoli in 2014 and forced the government to flee further east.

But they are now fighting alongside forces from a UN-backed unity government formed earlier this year -- and re-established in Tripoli -- to oust the Islamic State group from nearby Sirte.

Since it started in 2013, the multi-country operation has resulted in the detention of 109 people of various nationalities, the majority of them Syrian, Moroccan and Spanish.

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