Italian police have arrested over 30 people suspected of being members of the Nigerian Black Axe mafia – a “black-liberation” group known for committing rape, mutilation and ritual murder.

According to police, the group face about 100 charges, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution and internet fraud.

Allegedly, this gang used Bitcoin in order to carry out illegal purchases on the dark web, purchasing the details of cloned credit cards and engaging in online shopping sprees using other people’s money.

The arrests took place in 14 provinces across Italy in a massive police operation, and even included the gang’s 35-year-old local leader.

“This proves the ability of the judiciary and police forces to fight against old and new mafia groups which are trying to extend their criminal reach and expand their business,” Italian Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese, said in a statement.

The Black Axe are one of the most notorious and prolific secret societies to emerge from Nigeria, with an estimated 30,000 members spread across almost every continent. The gang was originally known as the Neo Black Movement – on paper, a social justice group whose aim was to “liberate” the black race.

Founded on university campuses by 9 well educated upper and middle-class Nigerian students in the 1970’s, the Black Axe is one of many “campus cults” or secret societies in Nigeria, who engage in bloody rituals and brutal violence to achieve their aims.

Notably, in 1999, the group perpetrated what has since come to be known as the Obafemi Awolowo University massacre, where an organised 40-man Black Axe death squad all dressed in black and wielding hatchets and shotguns proceeded to kill 5 students and injure a further 11. All attackers were students of the same university.

While it’s unclear whether or not the Black Axe is active in Ireland, Nigerian organised crime syndicates have been credited with introducing crack cocaine to the Irish black market in the early 2000s.

Additionally, Europol have identified Nigerian gangs as being responsible for sex trafficking children from Nigeria to Ireland.