Police investigating reports that people smuggling suspect 'is the wrong man'

Close friends of the detainee have told 'The Guardian' the man extradited to Rome is a victim of mistaken identity

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Image: National Crime Agency

British and Italian police are investigating claims they caught the wrong person in an international operation to capture one of the world's most wanted people smugglers.

Mered Medhanie, known as "The General", is believed to be the mastermind behind a major criminal organisation responsible for smuggling thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe.

The 35-year-old Eritrean is accused of being partly responsible for the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy in which at least 359 migrants lost their lives when their boat capsized off the Italian coast.

Medhanie, wanted by authorities in Italy, was reported to have been arrested in Sudan after Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) tracked him down to an address in the El Diem area of the country's capital Khartoum.

He has now been extradited to Rome where he will appear before a judge.

However, close friends of the detainee have told The Guardian he is a victim of mistaken identity.

They allege the man sent to Italy is Medhanie Tesfamariam Kidane, a 27-year-old refugee arrested in a street in Khartoum late last month, the newspaper reported.

An NCA spokesman said: "We have noted The Guardian's report. This is a complex multi-partner operation and it is too soon to speculate about these claims."

He said the NCA is "liaising with our partners", adding that the organisation is confident in its intelligence gathering process.