A seven-year-old boy, shot dead by masked killers in Marbella, was the latest victim of organised crime in the Costa del Sol. Graham Keeley examines how criminal gangs are changing in one of Spain's most popular regions.
Marbella is one of the Costa del Sol's most upmarket resorts
Caught in the cross-fire, as three hooded gangsters peppered the hairdresser's with machine guns, he didn't stand a chance.
The seven-year-old boy and a 36-year-old Italian haridresser were killed. Three others, including the boy's aunt and another man - thought to be the real target - were also injured.
The gunmen at first pursued a car, firing at it as it sped through the streets, before stopping outside the hairdresser's.
Police found 50 bullet shells, apparently from a machine-gun, lying on the ground outside. They have yet to establish a motive.
Marbella is one of the Costa del Sol's most upmarket resorts.
It attracts celebrities, Spanish aristocrats and Saudi princes but is also something of a
haven for criminal gangs from North Africa, Latin America and eastern Europe
And it is not the first time this part of Marbella has already witnessed a mob killing in broad daylight.
Two years ago, a man was shot in the face while sitting in a cafe just a stone's throw from where last Saturday's killings took place.
These are the latest in a long-line of mob killings in this part of the Costa del Sol.
Two died after a hairdresser's was peppered with gunfire
In May, a policeman and a known French criminal were injured in a shooting in the same city while the officer was involved in trying to track down members of a gang.
So as more and more Britons, Germans and other foreigners look for their dream homes in the sun here, how many realise the scale of organiwed crime around them?
In 2003 alone, Spanish police smashed 53 separate gangs in the Costa del Sol.
A recent report by Europol, the European police intelligence agency, said Spain’s criminal future lies with gangs from Eastern Europe.
These are the Albanians, Slovenians, Bulgarians and Romanians who have already played havoc in other parts of the Europe.
The gangs' main business is drugs, money-laundering, fire-arms and stolen vehicles.
*quote2*Last week, a gang, mostly made up of Bulgarians, was arrested for stealing luxury Porsches, BMWs, Range Rovers and Mercedes, owned by celebrities and sporting personalities. The cars were being shipped to the UK and Eastern Europe.
Until July this year, Spain's elite Organised Crime and Drugs Unit blocked EUR 1.5 million in bank accounts run by the gangs. And this was just the cash the police could trace.
Human trafficking is another growth market too – there is more money to be made from unwitting immigrants desperate for a new life in Europe.
Every day desperate people, willing to take huge risks travelling in tiny boats in a bid to reach the Spanish coast from Africa, are stopped by Spanish police.
The simple draw for the criminals is the punishments are far less than for drug-running.
For now, though, some things remain the same.
The sheer scale of the drugs problem was revealed in another Europol report, which said a staggering 60 percent of the world’s drugs arrive on the Continent through Spain.
Its geographic position makes the country the first port-of-call for Colombians who have cornered the world market in cocaine and the Moroccan gangs, whose principle trade is in cannabis. The drugs then make their way to all-too-eager buyers in Spain itself or the rest of Europe.
Police found 50 bullet shells, apparently from a machine-gun
Only in the United States and Colombia have larger amounts of cocaine been seized.
The Foundacion Galicia, an anti-drugs group, claims that Colombian cartels have gone one step further and established a beach-head in Galicia.
Spanish mobsters have been demoted to mere ‘mules’ or transporters of the drug and the Colombians now command the trade from a base in the region.
It also means the peculiarly Colombian way of 'settling accounts' with rivals has become more prevalent in Galicia, raising the number of drug-related murders and attacks.
But apart from the gargantuan size of the drugs trade, the shape and nature of organised crime itself is changing, according to research by Europol.
Most of the European mafia organisations are linked to Spanish gangs because of their importance in the drugs trade.
The Spaniards are increasingly acting as mere couriers for their more ruthless counterparts from Eastern Europe, South America and Africa.
More worrying, perhaps, is the fact that the number of organised gangs is rising.
Officers from Europol estimate that in 2002 there were 3,000 criminal gangs throughout Europe, numbering 30,000 members.
But in 2003, this number was thought to have risen to 40,000 members and 4,000 gangs. The report, though, does not explain how many of these gangs are actually Spanish.
The Spanish Interior ministry estimated that between 1996 and 2003 at least 500 gangs from Spain alone have been broken-up by police here, an indicator, perhaps of the size of the problem.
Europol said Morrocans have extended their markets to bring stolen cars, cigarettes and, of course, human cargos to the European mainland.
The physical proximity of the Spain and the Canary Isles means that there is no sign that the trade in ‘clandestinos' or illegal immigrants will stop.
Europol also believes the expansion of the EU, from 15 to 25 countries this year, simply opened up new markets for the gangs, whatever they are trading in.
Updated December 2004
Subject: Spanish news, Costa del Sol, crime