ROME – The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):
An Italian prosecutor says he is investigating employees of aid groups that are rescuing migrants off Libya for allegedly facilitating illegal migration, but says it's not a punishable crime since saving lives at sea is paramount.
Trapani Prosecutor Ambrogio Cartosio stressed Wednesday that he wasn't investigating the aid groups themselves, but rather individuals who work for them.
His testimony to the Senate's defense committe was the latest from law enforcement about alleged contacts between aid groups and Libyan traffickers who send overcrowded boats full of migrants to Italy. The groups have denied they're in cahoots with the traffickers and have blasted prosecutors for spreading rumors without providing proof.
Cartosio also said migrants arriving in Trapani have reported that Libyan coast guard officials — recently entrusted with Italian patrol boats and know-how to try to stem the migrant flows — have instead demanded bribes to let the boats continue their journeys north.
Italian police say they have found indirect links between Islamic militants and a Somali-run migrant trafficking and money transfer ring that was busted in overnight raids in southern Italy.
Police said the leader of the Bari-based ring had been in telephone contact with a Somali man arrested in Italy in July on suspicion of having helped two Islamic State foreign fighters enter Italy via Malta.
A police statement said other members of the ring frequented websites linked to Al-Shabab, Somalia's homegrown Islamic extremist rebels linked to al-Qaida.
The dozen Somalis targeted in the raids Wednesday are accused of transporting migrants to northern Europe, including with false documents, and running a money transfer network.
Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe says the "hawala" transfer network "is the same used to finance international terrorism."