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story.lead_photo.caption Italian prosecutors Federico Cafiero De Raho (from left), Giovanni Bombardieri and Giuseppe Lombardo speak about drug syndicate arrests Wednesday at a news conference in Rome.

Drug trafficking probe yields 84 arrests

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- In an investigation that underscored an Italian crime syndicate's role as a leading player in international cocaine trafficking, police in four countries arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters Wednesday in a series of carefully coordinated raids.

Those detained are accused of working for the Italian 'Ndrangheta criminal network that traffics cocaine on a global scale.

"It's almost a cliche, but the operation carried out today confirms again the great danger of the 'Ndrangheta, not just in drug trafficking, where it's the undisputed leader, but [also] in the financial sphere," said Francesco Ratta, a top police official in the southern Italian region of Calabria. "It's an evolved 'Ndrangheta, that we can say knows no borders ... It's an 'Ndrangheta that day by day changes its skin ... but still keeps ties" to its home base in Calabria.

European officials announced the arrests at The Hague headquarters of Eurojust, the European Union prosecutors agency set up to bolster the fight against cross-border crime in the 28-nation bloc. Eurojust and EU police agency Europol coordinated the raids.

"Today we send a clear message to organized crime groups across Europe," said Filippo Spiezia, vice president of Eurojust, which coordinated the raids. "They are not the only ones able to operate across borders; so are Europe's judiciary and law enforcement communities."

As well as arresting dozens of suspected mobsters in Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, police seized drugs and around $2.3 million.

Afghan woman named interior deputy

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan has appointed its first woman to a senior post at the Interior Ministry, naming Hosna Jalil as deputy for policy and strategic affairs.

After her appointment ceremony on Wednesday, Jalil said she relished the challenges of the job.

Afghan women have forged ahead since the 2001 collapse of the Taliban regime, which denied girls the right to go to school and women the right to work.

With their rights guaranteed under the constitution, they have become lawmakers and joined the workforce.

Jalil said her appointment sends a message to the radical religious movement that "this is a winning story for the government of Afghanistan ... having a woman in the security sector."

She added: "I think it delivers a message, the entire message."

Somali raids target extremists; 4 killed

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Somali commandos backed by U.S. forces raided two al-Shabab checkpoints at which the extremists extort money from commercial vehicles, killing several fighters, Somali intelligence officials said Wednesday.

The officials also said two U.S. airstrikes in the area during the overnight raid destroyed an explosives-laden minibus that was prepared for a complex attack on an unspecified location. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The U.S. Africa Command in a statement said four extremists were killed in a "self-defense airstrike" after U.S. and partner forces came under attack. It said no civilians were involved.

The U.S. military has stepped up the fight against al-Shabab since President Donald Trump took office, carrying out more airstrikes in 2017 than over the previous decade. The U.S. has carried out at least 38 airstrikes this year.

Al-Shabab "uses portions of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local populace to fund its operations and shelter radical terrorists," the U.S. statement said.

The extremist group uses widespread extortion of businessmen and travelers to fund its high-profile attacks in major cities such as Mogadishu, collecting millions of dollars a year.

Officials ID renter's body in Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Investigators say a body found near an Airbnb rental in Costa Rica has been identified as that of Carla Stefaniak of Florida.

The Miami Beach woman disappeared on a trip to celebrate her 36th birthday.

The country's Judicial Investigation Department said it identified her using fingerprints.

Costa Rican officials arrested 32-year-old Bismark Espinosa Martinez, a guard at the Villa Buena Vista resort near the Costa Rican capital, after he contradicted himself in statements to police. Investigators said blood was found in his nearby apartment.

The department said Wednesday that Espinosa Martinez, who is from Nicaragua, was working as a security guard at the complex despite lacking the proper documents to be in Costa Rica. He is believed to have lived in Costa Rica since June.

An autopsy revealed that Stefaniak suffered a blunt force wound to the head and cuts on the neck and arms.

A posting on the Finding Carla Facebook page said Costa Rican authorities allowed the family to view her body, which was found Monday half-buried and covered in plastic near the Airbnb villa Stefaniak had rented last month.

Carlos Caceido, the father of U.S. tourist Carla Stefaniak who disappeared last week, talks Wednesday about having to identify her body at the morgue in Costa Rica.

A Section on 12/06/2018

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