BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Eleven men have been indicted in the case of the deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated in the back of a refrigerated truck in 2015, Hungarian authorities said Thursday.
Laszlo Nanasi, chief prosecutor of Bacs-Kiskun County, said the group includes men from Afghanistan, Bulgaria and Lebanon who allegedly smuggled some 1,200 people from the Hungary-Serbia border to Austria or Germany in 2015.
Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the victims found in the back of a refrigerated truck with Hungarian license plates abandoned in the emergency lane of the A4 highway near Parndorf, Austria, not far from the Hungarian border, on Aug. 27, 2015. The victims included 59 men, eight women and four children.
The migrants were locked into the truck the day before near Morahalom, Hungary, near the Serbian border, and likely died within three hours, while the vehicle was still in Hungary. Despite their pleas to open the truck doors, the smugglers were told by their boss to cross into Austria as soon as possible, Nanasi said in a statement.
Charges against the defendants include organized human smuggling and the torture of the smuggled persons.
The four people accused of direct involvement in the deaths also face charges of homicide committed with particular cruelty.
Prosecutors are calling for life in prison for four defendants, with shorter terms at a maximum-security facility and expulsion from Hungary for the rest. The trial will be held at a court in central Hungary, where the smugglers began the trip which ended in the migrants' deaths.
Nine of the alleged smugglers are in custody, while prosecutors have filed a motion to try the other two defendants in absentia.
The alleged 30-year-old Afghan leader of operation earned some 300,000 euros ($328,000) from the group's smuggling activities in 2015, Nanasi said. Among his alleged accomplices are Bulgarian drivers and a Bulgarian-Lebanese man who obtained the vehicles and the temporary license plates.
Just a day after the 71 deaths, the smugglers locked a group of 67 migrants into another closed truck near Morahalom, taking them to the Austrian town of Gols. While the condition of the migrants became life-threatening, they were able to kick open the doors of the truck and no one died. Two of the defendants are facing charges of life-threatening battery in the case.