The group trafficked around 1,800 people between February and September
By Karin Strohecker
VIENNA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Twelve members of a human trafficking gang, many of whose victims were from Afghanistan and Syria, have been arrested and international warrants issued for another five, Austrian police said on Thursday, hailing a major coup against people smugglers.
The group trafficked around 1,800 people from the Serbian capital Belgrade through Hungary into Austria between February and September.
Most of them were men, women and children from Syria and Afghanistan, Franz Prucher, police chief in Lower Austria province told a news conference.
"This is most certainly one of our biggest successes," Prucher said, adding all of the arrested were Serbs, many of whom had lived for years in Austria.
"They were highly organised, they had rented flats in Vienna so they could get a rest between their trips ... they were travelling in convoys with an advance party making sure there were no checks ahead."
Ten men and a woman pensioner were detained in Austria, while another man has been arrested in Greece, authorities said.
In August, the discovery of 71 dead refugees dumped in an truck on an Austrian highway provoked shock and outrage at the exploitation by gangs of traffickers, who extort money by promising to smuggle migrants into western Europe.
For months, Hungary was one of the main transit countries for arriving migrants, with nearly 400,000 crossing the country this year alone.
Police said the gang had been operating at least since February and authorities had confiscated six vehicles and 50,000 euros ($53,575.00) during a 'sting' operation. While the head of the Austrian side of the gang was among those arrested, the overall chief was still at large and believed to be somewhere in Serbia together with the other fugitives.
($1 = 0.9333 euros) (Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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