Notorious People Smuggler Wanted In Europe Arrested In Northern Iraq

This is a locator map for Iraq with its capital, Baghdad. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Iraq with its capital, Baghdad. (AP Photo)

BAGHDAD (AP) — One of Europe's most notorious human smugglers was arrested Monday in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, security officials said.

The regional government's security agency said it had arrested Barzan Majeed, known as “the Scorpion,” in the area of Sulaymaniyah, upon a request from Interpol and “after the exchange of intelligence information.”

He was handed over to the regional justice department, it said.

The U.K.'s National Crime Agency announced Majeed's arrest on the X social media platform.

The crime agency had issued an appeal for assistance in tracking Majeed down in 2022, after he was convicted in absentia in Belgium of people smuggling crimes, following a joint U.K.-Belgian investigation. The agency said he had attempted to smuggle 100 migrants to the U.K. in small boats and trucks.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats has soared in recent years as individuals fleeing war, the effects of climate change, and economic uncertainty have sought a better life in Britain.

They pay smugglers thousands of dollars for the crossing, hoping to reunite with family members or find work in a country where immigration enforcement is seen as weak and where migrant groups from all over the world can easily blend into society.

Last month, the U.K. Parliament approved controversial legislation allowing the government to deport to Rwanda those who enter the country illegally. Hours later, five people, including a 7-year-old girl, died while crossing the English Channel in an overloaded inflatable boat.

Many of the would-be migrants hail from Iraqi's northern Kurdish region.

While the region is relatively more prosperous and stable than other parts of the country, increasing unemployment and corruption issues are driving many young Kurds to undertake the dangerous journey.

In November 2021, 16 Iraqi Kurds were among a group of 27 people who died while attempting to cross the channel.


Associated Press journalist Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.