Settling scores | 

Girl (11) shot dead in Antwerp is niece of major international cocaine dealer

Speaking from Dubai where he is now based, the girl’s uncle told Belgian media: ‘We will react, but not as the mayor of Antwerp thinks’

Photo: AP

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

An 11-year-old girl who died after a shooting incident linked to the illegal drug trade in the Belgian port city of Antwerp is the niece of a reputed major international cocaine dealer, it has been claimed.

Local police told national news agency Belga the child was killed by shrapnel on Monday, after bullets fired by attackers into a house in the Merksem area caused a microwave to explode.

The girl was rushed to hospital alongside three other residents who were in the house at the time, including her father (58) and his two other daughters, aged 13 and 18, who were treated for minor injuries.

It has been reported that she is the niece of a “one of the largest cocaine smugglers our country has ever produced,” who Belgian media have been writing about for years.

“The local police in Antwerp received an emergency call about the shooting on Monday evening at 6.24pm,” local media stated.

“It turned out that a garage door of a terraced house had been shot at. Five shell casings were found in front of the house. Based on these bullet casings, the public prosecutor's office believes that an assault rifle was fired.”

Belgium’s interior minister Annelies Verlinden tweeted: “Horrible tragedy where an innocent child has died. The investigation is ongoing, but we will do everything we can to apprehend these ruthless criminals. Children have nothing to do with any drug war.”

The city’s mayor Bart De Wever told VRT television the home targeted in the shooting belonged to a family known to be involved in the drug trade and that the attack appeared to be a “settling of scores”.

“A drug war is underway, criminals attack the houses of other criminals,” he said.

“We have been witnessing this for months and what I feared for a long time has happened, there has been an innocent victim, a child.”

Speaking from Dubai where he is now based, the girl’s uncle told Belgian media: “We will react, but not as the mayor of Antwerp thinks.”

“(He) denies intending violent revenge and says (He) wants to cooperate with the police investigation,” it has been reported.

A spokesman for the Antwerp prosecutor’s office said links to the drug trade were being “investigated”.

However, as his sister is not associated with criminal activities by the Belgian judiciary, “there are therefore no indications that the residents of the affected building themselves are involved in drug trafficking,” local reports added.

It is just the latest voice incident in Antwerp in the past year where the homes of family members of drug criminals have been targeted by rival gangs.

“In Antwerp, especially in the past year, the homes of family members of rival drug criminals have been a frequent target, often by young Dutch criminals,” it has been reported locally. “For example, homes belonging to another family have already been the target of an attack twelve times.”

It has also been reported that the Dubai based drug trafficker’s family has been the target of violence before.

In 2016, the dealer’s younger brother was kidnapped in Antwerp by a group of criminals from France, but managed to escape.

The kidnappers were later were sentenced to 12 years in prison for their role in the hostage-taking.

In December a Panamanian businessman who is suspected of masterminding shipments of cocaine into Europe with Daniel Kinahan was arrested in Dubai as part of an international police operation targeting Europe’s super-cartel.

Anthony Alfredo Martínez Meza is suspected of being the connection who arranged to get Colombian cocaine shipped into Europe.

The duo are believed to have invested in mega-shipments, including the one containing almost 18 tons of cocaine seized in Philadelphia en route to Antwerp and Rotterdam in 2019.

The news of the killing comes as Belgian authorities are set to announce a new annual record for cocaine seizures at the port of Antwerp, which is expected to top more than 100 tonnes.

It has been established that Antwerp and nearby Rotterdam in the Netherlands are the two main gateways for cocaine dispatched from Latin America to enter Europe, which are often hidden in consignments of fruit.

Authorities estimate that despite deploying sniffer dogs and container scanners, they stop only around 10 per cent of the volume of the illegal drug smuggled through Antwerp.

So much cocaine has been intercepted that law enforcement officials have previously expressed concerns that they do not have enough incinerator capacity to destroy the massive amounts.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Antwerp say that over the past five years they have recorded more than 200 violent incidents linked to drug smuggling.

These include threats of violence, assaults, and even explosives thrown at homes.

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