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Spanish police smash burglary ring that targeted footballers

Madrid, Spain: Police in Spain have smashed a burglary ring suspected of targeting the homes of famous La Liga football players while they were away playing matches, Spanish police and Europol said Monday.

The members of the gang, made up of four Albanians and a Spaniard, were arrested on Wednesday in a series of co-ordinated raids in Madrid and the nearby city of Toledo, European police agency Europol said in a statement.

"It is believed that the criminal group monitored the players’ activities through their social media accounts to know when to strike. In some cases, there were family members inside the homes when the criminal group entered," it added.

Spanish police did not name the victims of the gang, saying only that some of the homes targeted by the group belonged to Real Madrid and Atletico  Madrid.

But Spanish media have reported that Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema and its Brazilian midfielder Casemiro, as well as Atletico Madrid's Ghanian international midfielder Thomas Partey, are among those whose homes have been hit by robberies in recent months.

Burglars reportedly entered Partey's house last month while he was in Moscow with Atletico Madrid for a Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow and made off with cash, jewels and his runner-up Champions League medal.

After Casemiro's house was robbed last month, the wife of Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez took to social media to voice her concern over the spate of burglaries targeting footballer's homes, drawing media attention to the thefts.

Spanish police carried out four searches as part of the operation and seized luxury cars, jewellery and thousands of euros in cash believed to belong to the players and their families. 

"A number of items of sentimental value were also recovered, including a Champion League medal that had been stolen from the house of an Atletico Madrid midfielder," Europol said without naming the player.

Spanish police said the gang is suspected of having carried out 14 break-ins. The five suspects face charges of membership in a criminal group, burglary, handling stolen goods, car theft and document falsification, a Spanish police statement said.

The suspected leader of the gang who was among those arrested had been detained in 2007 for his role in the "extremely violent" robbery of a businessman and producer in Spain, it added.

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