Criminal biker gangs are expanding rapidly into southeastern Europe, authorities warned on Friday, saying that the Hells Angels and other groups were growing bolder and more violent in their activities.
Europol, the pan-European police agency, said gangs linked to the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the Bandidos had moved into Albania, Bulgaria and parts of Turkey to focus on drug-running and other criminal activity.
"New alliances between outlaw gangs mean that they get the capability and capacity ... to manage drugs trafficking via southeast Europe using the 'Balkan route'," the Dutch-based Europol said in a statement.
"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."
The expansion into southeastern Europe began around two years ago, Europol said, and it is speeding up and creating problems for local police. Europol called for greater police cooperation and sharing of intelligence to combat the gangs.
"Some countries in southeast Europe don't really realise how big the threat is," said Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen.
The gangs were also involved in money laundering and fraud, and made close relationships with "influential people and authorities" in the region to protect their interests, it said.
"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 and other higher calibre weapons," Europol said, adding that it would be leading an effort to crack down on the gangs.
Outlaw bikers have been convicted for extortion, human trafficking and prostitution across Europe and are particularly active in Germany and the Netherlands.