An Eritrean national who was extradited to Italy on suspicion of being the kingpin in people smuggling across the Mediterranean is now believed to be a wrong suspect.
This is after local media reported that close friends of the detainee told police he is a victim of mistaken identity.
They allege the man sent to Italy is Medhanie Tesfamariam Kidane, a 27-year-old refugee arrested in a street in Khartoum late last month.
Italian and British police are now urgently investigating whether they caught the wrong person in a much-hyped anti-smuggling operation said to have netted one of the world’s most-wanted people smugglers.
Investigators in both countries announced with great fanfare on Wednesday morning that they had seized Medhanie Yehdego Mered, a 35-year-old Eritrean whom an Italian prosecutor called “the boss of one of the most important criminal groups operating in Central Africa and Libya.”
However, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) spokesman said: “We have noted The Guardian’s report. This is a complex multi-partner operation and it is too soon to speculate about these claims. We are liaising with our partners to gather more report.”
Medhanie, who models himself on the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has claimed to have personally been involved in the smuggling of between 7,000 and 8,000 people.
He is held responsible by Italian prosecutors for a shipwreck off the island of Lampedusa in October 2013, which resulted in at least 359 deaths, mostly of Eritrean and Somali migrants and refugees.