ALREADY A scourge in northern Europe, criminal motor bike gangs are making rapid inroads in the southeast of the continent as they bid to consolidate their grip on the drug-smuggling racket via the “Balkan Route” from Turkey.
Police say gangs affiliated to the Hell’s Angels network have made swift advances in Turkey and Albania as they use Turkey as a staging post for the onward transportation of drugs into Europe, a business so lucrative that turf wars are feared in a criminal fraternity noted for its violence.
In the past couple of years, Hell’s Angels gangs from outside these countries have built close relationships with local motor bike outlaws and with gangs in Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
German outlaw motorcyclists of Turkish origin are also known to have defected to the Hell’s Angels’ “charter” in Turkey from the rival Bandidos faction in Germany.
Motor bike outlaws have been around for decades, their exploits immortalised in the 1967 book Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by legendary American journalist Hunter S Thompson.
Still active in the US, Canada and Australia, outlaw motor bike groups have long been a feature of the criminal scene in Germany, as they are in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and France.
Many describe themselves as one-percenters, an expression which recalls a declaration by an American motorcycle club in the 1940s that 99 per cent of riders were law-abiding.
In practically everything where there’s money to be made, they are found, said Soren Pedersen of the pan-European police agency Europol. He cited convictions in recent times for extortion, violence, drug-trafficking and red light sex trade offences.
Although the incursion of motor bike groups into Turkey and Albania marks a big expansion of their organised crime networks, Europol pointed to a lack of knowledge among local police about the number of outlaw gangs and their relationships.
However, it said many groups among more than 60 local motor bike clubs in southeast Europe display links to international outlaw gangs. The agency said such gangs typically invest in legitimate business structures, for laundering money or as fronts for illegal activities, while trying to cultivate a favourable public image on television and in newspapers.
In the race to secure the opportunities provided by the southeast European markets, a turf war is a significant threat, based on previous increases in violence observed between rival gang members in other parts of Europe, Europol said.
The establishment of other international outlaw motorcycle gangs in southeast Europe, where Hell’s Angels are already present, may also lead to violent disputes for superiority. One of the most serious threats associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs is their tendency to use extreme violence, which is aggravated by their willingness to use firearms . . .
In Germany last May, rival Hell’s Angels and Bandidos factions agreed a tentative truce after an increasingly bloody conflict over control of criminal terrain led the state of Schleswig-Holstein to ban the two groups.
Last year in Denmark, the government admitted it was powerless to end killings, shootings and grenade attacks in a conflict between biker gangs and immigrant youths played out for months on the streets of Copenhagen.
Saturday, July 31, 2010