A firefight in Spain between a criminal group from Colombia and African drug traffickers has led to twelve arrests, perhaps a flavor of things to come as Europe prepares to lift visa restrictions for Colombians, even as Latin America’s organized crime takes root.
According to a press release from Spain’s national police, on February 15 a gunfight followed a drug deal gone wrong between the two groups in the town of Illescas, 38 kilometers southwest of Madrid. Police apparently witnessed the event because they had the house under surveillance as part of an investigation into the Colombian group, which was importing large quantities of drugs in shipping containers.
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Police said the African group — their country of origin unidentified — was known to engage in robbing other criminals. They said the confrontation erupted when the African group posed as buyers of a consignment of cocaine, which they may have subsequently attempted to steal at gunpoint.
Police moved in after gunshots were heard and several people were seen fleeing the house. After raiding the property and another in the nearby town of Navalcarnero, authorities recovered 45 packets of drugs — each weighing a kilo — guns and 4,000 euros in cash. Upon inspection, the drugs in 21 of the packets were found to be counterfeit.
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With travel restrictions for Colombians and Peruvians set to be lifted next year in the 26 EU countries that make up the Schengen Area, this case is a timely indication of the key role Colombian organized crime plays in the Spanish underworld. With Colombians linked in recent cases to assassination squads, money laundering networks and drug importation, the question of how easing travel restrictions will affect Europe’s criminal landscape is pertinent. As demonstrated by the recent detention in Spain of a hitman accused of a double murder in the Netherlands, Colombian criminals already operate across borders, something the lifting of restrictions will only facilitate.
While it is unclear whether the African group originally intended to rob the consignment or was reacting to the discovery of fake drugs, this case also serves as a reminder of the increasing growth of African organized crime. As highlighted in a 2013 report from Americas regional police association, Ameripol, African organized crime has become increasingly influential both in West Africa — a key drug transit region — and Latin America itself. According to the report, Nigerian criminal groups now control 30 percent of the cocaine passing through the Brazilian city of São Paulo, one of the region’s most important drug export points. As this case may indicate, the increasing importance of African groups in drug production and transit points may also be noted in destination countries; another cause for concern for Europe.