An international law enforcement operation coordinated by Europol has resulted in the arrest of 37 members of a highly violent criminal cell from the Western Balkans.

Led by a national of Bosnia & Herzegovina, this powerful criminal cell was mainly involved in the large-scale trafficking of drugs and firearms across Europe. On 24 May, a series of raids were carried out simultaneously across Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Germany against the members of this gang.

These actions were coordinated from a command post in Zagreb, Croatia, with the support of Europol officers deployed on-the-ground. A total of 37 suspects were arrested over the course of the investigation, including the gang’s ringleader – a national from Bosnia & Herzegovina considered as a high-value target by Europol and currently serving a 4 year-long prison sentence in Italy.

Out of these 37 suspects, 15 were arrested as a result of the action day this week. The investigators were able to uncover how this individual continued to orchestrate his gang’s criminal activities from his prison cell.

From there, he is believed to have regularly given orders and instructions to his subordinates on matters related to the trafficking of drugs and firearms. The premises searched during the action day include a prison cell in Belgium, a garage in the Netherlands which was used to stash cocaine, and several premises in Croatia, Germany, Slovenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina where drugs, firearms and explosives were being held.

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Results of the criminal investigation

37 arrests EUR 148 000 in cash 18 firearms, including 2 machines guns, and 2 512 pieces of ammunition 500 grams of TNT with remote detonators Over 15 kilos of cocaine, 11 kilos of heroin, 3 kilos of amphetamine, 7 kilos of marijuana and 10 kilos of hashish Law enforcement uniforms Fake ID documents Participating authorities Austria: Criminal Intelligence Service Austria (Bundeskriminalamt) Belgium: Federal Judicial Police Antwerp Bosnia & Herzegovina: Federal Police – Department for Combatting Drugs Abuse Sarajevo Croatia: General Police Directorate (Drug Enforcement Department) and Zagrebačka County Police Administration and State Attorney – Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime Germany: ZKA – Customs Investigation Office Munich The Netherlands: Police Rotterdam Slovenia: Criminal Police Directorate (Illicit Drugs Section within Organised Crime Division) and Police Directorate Ljubljana United States: US DEA Office Zagreb Europol: Drugs Unit Operational Taskforce ‘Balkan Cartel’ This international sweep follows a complex investigation led by the Croatian General Police Directorate in the framework of the Operational Taskforce ‘Balkan Cartel’. The intelligence development carried out by Europol after the recent takedown of three encrypted communication tools used by criminals – Encrochat, Sky ECC and ANOM – revealed the prevalence of Balkan criminals in the global criminal landscape. To respond to this threat Europol has set up the Operational Task Force Balkan Cartel, which brings together investigators from across Europe and the world to effectively target the threat emanating from this region. Besides the takedown of this network, the work carried out in the framework of this Operational Task Force recently led to the dismantling in Serbia of the biggest drug trafficking organisation in the Balkan region.

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