Over 380 Arrested in Balkan-wide Trafficking Sting

A sting of operations across the Balkans and Southeast Europe targeting drug and firearms trafficking, migrant smuggling and human trafficking resulted in the arrest of 382 suspects and 130 new investigations, Europol announced on Friday.

Balkan Route EuropolA logistical hub, the Balkans see thousands of trucks entering Europe each day. (Photo: Europol, License)The operation, carried out between 26 and 29 October, involved 28 European countries, and was coordinated by Spain and Europol.

During this joint operation, almost a thousand locations were inspected and nearly 75,000 people checked. Over a hundred firearms, mostly rifles, pistols, and ammunition; and batches of drugs, including over 300 kilos of cocaine, were seized.

“The Balkan route is notorious for its use in a number of crime areas, including migrant smuggling and the trafficking of firearms and drugs into the EU,” said the Europol statement.

Weapons can be sourced from the Western Balkans by multinational criminal rings, according to Friday’s press release, which are then smuggled into the rest of Europe - mainly to Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

The smuggled firearms include a range of military grade weapons, as well as blank-firing ones, which are later converted into real arms.

Additionally, the Balkans serve as an entry point for heroin traffickers, and a layover for cannabis and cocaine smugglers.

The trade of firearms and drugs are closely connected, and during this illicit handover, criminal groups will sometimes trade weapons for drugs. Or, they will use the weapons to maintain a stronghold over the drug market.

Both commodities can be smuggled via vehicles, such as cocaine hidden in fruit shipments; and traffickers will still use the ancient trade route known as Silk Road, spanning across Eurasia, for heroin and sometimes migrant smuggling.

A logistical hub, the Balkan route sees thousands of trucks making their way into Europe each day -  one of the main land entry points being Bulgaria’s Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint at the border with Turkey.

For this reason, border and customs checks along this route were intensified to detect signs of trafficking, and countries that participated in this joint action exchanged information.

This operation was supported by other crossborder organizations including Eurojust, Frontex, INTERPOL and SELEC (Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre).