Northern Ireland news

Alleged senior figure in international people smuggling network to remain in custody

Mohamed Awad (24) was refused bail amid claims he is part of a gang who trafficked hundreds of Syrian migrants across Europe into Britain

AN alleged senior figure in an international people smuggling network is to remain in custody, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mohamed Awad (24) was refused bail amid claims he is part of a gang who trafficked hundreds of Syrian migrants across Europe into Britain, with many entering via Dublin and Belfast.

Awad, of Chaplin Road in London, was among three men arrested in March as part of a major Home Office investigation.

He faces a charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration of non-UK nationals.

Prosecution barrister Connel Trainor said the authorities were alerted to an illicit operation where Syrian nationals paid to be smuggled across the continent.

Between November 2021 and February 2022 gang members allegedly provided the necessary identity documents, hotel accommodation and flight bookings.

A previous court heard more than 40 Syrians are believed to have been brought into Britain during one three-week period.

But Mr Trainor submitted: "This organised crime group is believed responsible for hundreds of facilitation events into the UK within a short period of time."

Awad was first detained last November after arriving at Belfast International Airport on a flight from London Gatwick.

Police seized his phone, along with €5,500 and £1,000 in cash believed to be linked to criminal activity.

Mr Trainor argued that booking details, accommodation emails and screenshots of boarding cards discovered on his mobile device corroborated the Home Office's case against the accused.

During interviews Awad provided a statement claiming another man in Belfast had paid him to collect and pass on money from other unknown individuals.

Opposing his application for bail, Mr Trainor said: "The prosecution assesses Mr Awad as a senior figure within this organised crime group.

"He has a complex understanding in smuggling people across international borders undetected."

Defence counsel Aileen Smyth argued that her client knew for months that he was under investigation without attempting to abscond.

"It was also never put to him that he was living a lifestyle outside his means, as one would expect if he was at the centre of this organisation," she added.

Denying bail, however, Lord Justice Treacy identified a risk that Awad could flee.

The judge said: "The nature of his alleged understanding of smuggling could enable him to evade justice."

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