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Animal heads, guns... now blogs join the mobster's arsenal

Organised criminals turn to the internet to intimidate officials who refuse to toe the line

While 21st-century Italian mobsters still use bullets, anonymous phone calls and dead animals to make threats, they've also found a new tool of intimidation: blogging.

Italian mayors and local administrators received 212 threats last year, according to a new report showing the continuing influence of organised crime on Italian society and politics. The research also shows that Italian criminals are making use of new media to deliver threats.

In the past 20 years, 202 city governments have been dissolved because they were controlled by crime syndicates, said the report, released on Friday by Avviso Pubblico, an association of local and regional governments. The most common ways to threaten administrators who refused to collude with the criminals were to burn their cars, mail them envelopes containing bullets, or boxes with severed animal heads reminiscent of the horse's head scene in The Godfather.

But a more modern method, anonymous blogging, was used to target Carolina Girasole, mayor of a town of 15,000 in southern Italy. "I don't feel safe," said Ms Girasole, 48, in a telephone interview from Isola Capo Rizzuto in Calabria, where the powerful 'Ndrangheta organisation is based. "The blog shows that these people are willing to do and say anything to make us leave. If we don't go, and we don't have any intention to, what will be their next move?"

The authors, who write anonymously on a blog hosted by WordPress, "know my movements," she said. Last year, the 'Ndrangheta made 41 per cent of threats, double the number made by the Mafia in Sicily.

As Mario Monti, the new Prime Minister, battles with Italy's battered public finances, organised crime remains a drag on business. Italy's accounting court estimates corruption among public officials amounted to €60bn (£51.5bn) last year, while the Bank of Italy said that as much as €150bn in dirty money is laundered every year.

Organised crime bosses seek to control local governments, said Raffaele Cantone, a prosecutor in Naples, where the Camorra clan operates. "When they can't control the election of the mayor directly, the clans use threats to try to gain back influence," he said.

In the province that includes Ms Girasole's town, more than 18 per cent of the city governments said they had received threats, via e-mails, faxes and graffiti. Pets were killed, bombs were planted in front of homes and offices, and private orchards of orange, olive and hazelnut trees were cut down.

One mayor, Angelo Vassallo, was shot and killed last year because he tried to provide honest governance in Pollica, south of Naples. Politician Francesco Fortugno was also shot dead, in 2005, as he voted for the Democratic Party in Locri, Calabria.