Police in Italy have arrested 20 members of a vicious Nigerian organised crime gang that has allegedly been operating across the country with the consent of local mafia groups.
The Black Axe gang is thought to be involved in a number of illegal activities traditionally controlled by the mob – including prostitution, protection rackets, people smuggling and fraudulent international money transfers. It is also understood local mafia gangsters have been importing drugs for their North African partners to sell.
Prosecutors believe members of the group have been working alongside the powerful Cosa Nostra mafia clan after striking a deal that allows them to operate in agreed regions. The suspects were reportedly arrested after one of the gang’s members turned super grass earlier this year, telling authorities about the group’s organisational structure, and revealing the identities of its senior members.
“Cosa Nostra tolerates the Nigerian mafia in Palermo,” commented Leonardo Agueci, Deputy Anti-Mafia prosecutor in Palermo. “Cosa Nostra allowed the Nigerians to organise a subordinate structure. They were tolerated as long as they didn’t come outside their perimeter.”
The presence of foreign organised criminal groups such as the Black Axe has risen in Italy in line with a sharp rise in the number of North Africa migrants making their way to Europe over the past few years. Investigators say members of the groups have developed a reputation for carrying out horrific punishment attacks involving torture and elements of black magic.
“Nigerian mafia is sometimes more violent than the mafia from Palermo,” according to one official. “There are many cases of violence. People who did not follow the rules were punished in an extreme violent way.”
He went on to describe a case in which a man thought to have had an affair with a senior Black Axe member was stripped, beaten and repeatedly raped during a gruesome 12-hour punishment session.
Back in July, three Nigerian mafia members were handed lengthy prison sentences by a court in Palermo after being found guilty of a string of offences including attempted murder. The trio reportedly set about two people with broken bottles and axes one night in January 2014.
According to some reports, the Black Axe organisation is a splinter group of Nigeria’s Neo-Black Movement of Africa, which is said to have grown from secret societies formed at Nigerian universities in the 1990s. The group is now rumoured to carry out initiation ceremonies that involve the drinking of human blood.
The Black Axe has also put down roots in Canada, where its members have been involved in multi-billion dollar romance scams, money laundering and fraud. In October last year, police in Toronto arrested a number of individuals linked to the gang’s illegal activities, prompting local officials to warn that members of the organisation were seeking to “exert influence over” over the city’s ex-patriot Nigerian community.