26 teenage girls found dead in the Mediterranean sea

Aris Folley, AOL.com

Italian police have launched an investigation after the bodies of 26 teenage girls were recovered in the Mediterranean Sea Sunday.

The girls, ranging in age from 14-18 years old, are thought to have been migrants from Niger and Nigeria trying to reach Europe via a notoriously treacherous route from Libya, CNN reported.

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Investigators are trying to discover whether the girls were tortured or sexually abused, Lorena Ciccotti, the head of police in Salerno, told the outlet. Autopsies were scheduled to be performed Tuesday.

The girls' bodies were recovered by a Spanish navy ship conducting rescue operations in the area. According to Ciccotti, aid workers saw survivors clinging on to the remains of a vessel as the girls' bodies floated in the water nearby.

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The rescue mission was one of several operations carried out in the region over the weekend. In total, authorities brought aboard 400 people. Among the teens were 90 women, 52 minors, and a week-old infant. 

Libya has become a well-known port for human traffickers with smuggling operations reportedly going widely unchecked considering the country's lack of a central government system.

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