101 arrested as Iranian people-smuggling ring smashed

Updated: 

More than 100 people have been arrested as police smashed a smuggling ring trafficking Iranian migrants as young as five into the UK.

Officers closed in on the gang after seven Iranian nationals were caught carrying fake passports while trying to board a commercial flight from Hamburg, Germany, to the UK a year ago, the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol said.

In all, some 44 Iranian nationals were stopped at airports across Europe and were found to be carrying forged passports.

The group, operating out of Malaga, in southern Spain, charged each migrant 25,000 euro (£22,380) for forged Spanish passports, travel documents, transfers and accommodation at their intended destination.

Spanish police arrested 14 members of the gang in Malaga, while the leader of the crime syndicate was detained at Heathrow Airport by the Metropolitan Police as he tried to catch a flight to Brazil to evade capture.

Another 42 people accused of selling their Spanish identity documents to the smuggling ring for between 500 and 3,000 euro (£445 and £2,680) had been arrested, bringing the total to 101.

Searches of safe houses in Spain found seven Iranians, including a five-year-old child, as well as computers printers, more than 400 blank ID cards, firearms and 40 authentic Iranian and Spanish passports.

Europol said the group was "perfectly structured", with each member given a defined role from recruiting migrants to supplying fake documents.