21 arrested as UK targets people smuggling gang in raids

LONDON — British police made 21 arrests Tuesday during a series of raids against a suspected people smuggling network that is accused of bringing hundreds of migrants across the English Channel.

Officials say some 350 officers took part in raids in several parts of England including the northeast, the south coast and London. They targeted roughly 20 addresses after a yearlong investigation supported by authorities in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The National Crime Agency said the people smuggled into the country were mainly Iraqi Kurds. Officials say the suspects include Kurdish organized crime members.

Deputy director Tom Dowdall said the agency believes it has "disrupted a significant network" of human traffickers.

"The number of officers deployed today by the National Crime Agency, the police and partner agencies reflects the scale and severity of the suspected criminality," he said.

Authorities say the suspects brought migrants into Britain in trucks and charged up to 10,000 pounds ($14,000) for transport across the Channel.

Some 60 officers including tax inspectors made spot checks of numerous hand car washes that were also targeted as possible money laundering sites. They were checked for health and safety violations, immigration offenses, and financial matters.

Officials say the truck drivers were recruited in both England and France.

Senior Investigating Officer Mark Spoors said they were arrested on suspicion of immigration offenses and money laundering. The suspects have not been identified or charged.

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