DAKAR (Reuters) - A young woman soccer star who had played goalkeeper for Gambia drowned last month while trying to cross from Libya to Europe, her brother said on Thursday.


Fatim Jawara, 20, quit Gambia to head across the Sahara desert to Libya in September. Modou Jawara, her elder brother, said that the Libyan agent who organized her attempted crossing to Italy had told the family two weeks ago that she had drowned in the Mediterranean along with several other Gambians.


"The corpse cannot beseen, so we decided to do special prayers for her and several Gambians drowned in the sea," said Modou. He said a private service had been held on Sunday.


Fatim was one of more than 7,000 Gambians who have fled the small West African country so far this year, making it the largest contributor to illegal migration into Italy, relative to the size of its population.


In the last 48 hours alone, 240 migrants have drowned off the coast of Libya, including some believed to be West African, the U.N.'s migration agency said on Thursday.


Gambia has been stable since President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994. Although many of his political opponents have fled in recent years, citing repression, the majority of the current wave of migrants are thought to be fleeing poverty.

Gambia, which exports peanuts and rosewood, ranked 175 out of 188 countries in the 2015 U.N. Human Development Index.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)