Lebanese gang members charged in Austrian migrant truck tragedy

Hungarian prosecutors said Thursday (May 4th) they are seeking life imprisonment for four people over the deaths of 71 migrants found in an abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway in 2015, AFP reported.

An Afghan and three Bulgarians, ringleaders of a gang, were charged with aggravated homicide "with particular cruelty" and human smuggling, prosecutor Laszlo Nanasi said.

Another seven gang-members -- comprising Bulgarian and Lebanese nationals -- have been charged with human smuggling and face fixed-term sentences in a maximum security prison.

Their trial will begin in June in the southern Hungarian town of Kecskemet.

Nine of the suspects, including all the ringleaders, are in pre-trial detention in Hungary, one is being held in Bulgaria, while the 11th is still at large.

The badly decomposing bodies of the 71 people were found inside the refrigerated poultry truck in the eastern Austrian state of Burgenland close to the Hungarian border, on August 27th, 2015.

Investigations revealed that the migrants -- mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan -- had been picked up at Hungary's border with Serbia and transported to Austria via Budapest.

An autopsy showed they had probably died from lack of oxygen shortly after leaving the Hungarian capital.

"The perpetrators knew all along that the migrants were suffocating but did nothing to free them," said Gabor Schmidt, a spokesperson for the prosecutors.

Nanasi said the group operated between February and August 2015, and brought migrants to Germany or Austria on a daily basis from June that year.

"People were typically carried in closed, dark and airless vans in crowded, inhuman, and excruciating conditions," he said.

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