Spanish police rescued 39 Nigerian girls and women from a notorious sex trafficking ring who kept them in squalid cave-like houses and forced them into prostitution after threatening them with black magic, Europol said.
The operation, carried out with British and Nigerian law enforcement agencies, led to the arrests of 89 people including a well-known Nigerian DJ, according to a Europol statement.
It said the Nigerian crime ring was linked to the Eiye Confraternity – a network Spanish police previously compared to the mafia in Chicago in the 1930s.
The victims, many under 18, were believed to have undergone voodoo “juju” rituals in Nigeria to force them to comply with orders, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
After being trafficked to Spain via Libya and Italy, the women and girls were kept in cave houses in Almeria, it said.
They were then forced into prostitution to pay off “debts” of 30,000 euros ($36,900) each they were told they owed the organisation for their journey to Europe.
Europol said the DJ helped transfer victims to Spain and “organised sexual exploitation” in several provinces.
It said bank accounts used by the network to launder more than 300,000 euros were blocked.
“This was a highly organised crime gang, exploiting young woman for lengthy periods of time, keeping them in horrendous conditions where they knew there would be no escape,” the NCA’s deputy director Tom Dowdall said in a statement.
Europol said raids were carried out across 11 Spanish cities last November but the operation could not be announced until Thursday to avoid jeopardising investigations.
The NCA said police also arrested a Nigerian woman in Manchester who they believe was controlling some victims in Spain. She is in custody awaiting extradition to Spain, it said.
Europol said Eiye operated in clandestine groups all over the world, funding the brotherhood in Nigeria through both legal and illicit activities, particularly human trafficking.