Three Libyan nationals have been arrested in connection with a shipwreck this week believed to have led to the death of at least 250 migrants.
The three men – identified as Alyasse Krshman, 21, Ayoub Askeer, 32, and Nasem Azzbi, 26 – were arrested late on Thursday by Libyan authorities in the coastal town of Zuwara in a rare clampdown on people smugglers, according to the Malta-based Migrant Report.
The arrests are linked to allegations that the men loaded a wooden boat with more than 430 migrants trying to reach Europe.
It capsized around 15km off Zuwara.
Police arrested the men following information relayed by survivors.
They are being held by the Security Council of Zuwara.
The three men – whose names have not been released – were photographed carrying photos of dead children recovered from the coast between Thursday and Friday.
Their arrest is virtually unprecedented in a country reeling in chaos.
However, Migrant Report, a non-governmental organisation in Malta which focuses on migrant issues, quotes unnamed sources in Zuwara saying they feared the three men are merely scapegoats.
“These are the people who the dirty work. They are part of the smuggling network, but only the foot soldiers,” the source said.
The Libya Red Crescent has recovered 116 bodies from the town’s 120km coast since Wednesday, many of them children.
According to survivors, there were between 430 and 470 people on the boat, which departed from a beach close to the border with Tunisia.
The tragedy was the second capsizing in as many days after a boat with 40 people overturned on Wednesday.
An estimated 2,500 migrants have died trying to cross the sea to Europe, the UN said, with tens of thousands reaching Italy and Greece.
The crossings in the Mediterranean take place as thousands continue trying to escape strike in Africa and the Middle East by heading to Europe.