Mafia's 'boss of all bosses' held

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The Independent Online
JOY AND RELIEF swept Italy yesterday after Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, the ferocious capo di tutti capi - 'boss of all bosses' - who had turned the Mafia into a dictatorship and conducted a campaign of terror against the state, was arrested in Palermo.

Nicknamed 'La Belva' - the wild animal - by his own men for his savagery, Riina, 62, is alleged to have ordered some 80 murders, including those of close associates massacred in his ruthless struggle for total power. Top anti-Mafia investigators such as the magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were also among his victims.

Riina, born in Corleone, near Palermo, is believed to have been the head of Cupola, the Mafia government, for some 12 years after ousting Luciano Liggio, the post-war Mafia chief. His arrest is a serious blow to the Mafia, but government ministers, Mafia experts and police chiefs warned that this was not yet the end of the war. 'It is an extraordinary coup,' said Nicola Mancino, the Interior Minister. 'But we have not beaten the Mafia, we have only arrested a most dangerous criminal.'

The man who had evaded capture for more than 20 years was picked up in what was ostensibly a Carabinieri check of morning rush-hour traffic on the Palermo ring road. He was travelling unarmed in a Citroen car driven by a younger man, Salvatore Biondolillo. The Carabinieri said that he produced a false identity document and made no attempt to resist arrest.

The operation was a triumph for the Carabinieri's special anti- Mafia unit, which has been hunting Riina and other bosses since the government began serious efforts to beat the Mafia last year.

Protection lost, page 8

(Photograph omitted)

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