BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian police launched an operation of unprecedented scale against organized crime on Tuesday, according to the country’s federal prosecutor’s office.
About 200 searches mobilizing more than 1,200 police officers were carried out simultaneously throughout the country of 11.5 million people, the office told The Associated Press.
A spokesperson at the prosecutor’s office said searches started at around 5 a.m.. According to broadcaster RTBF, the searches mainly took place in the region of Antwerp, and investigators focused on drug traffickers and a crime network with international connections.
With thousands of shipping containers reaching Antwerp every day, the Belgian port city is one of Europe’s main entry ports for cocaine. Trafficking in the city has led to a surge of violence recently, with gun battles and grenade attacks taking place.
Last year, authorities in Belgium and three other countries dismantled a criminal drug trafficking network that shipped hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine into Western Europe. The investigation, which started when a container with 2.8 tons of cocaine was found last year in Antwerp, uncovered an international network with connections in at least four European countries and South America.