Arrest of judge's murderer deals blow to divided Mafia

Click to follow
Giovanni Falcone may have died in a Mafia ambush four years ago, but his spirit has not deserted Italy's forces of law and order. When the anti-Mafia judge's murderer, Giovanni Brusca, was arrested in a massive police operation on Monday night, he was engrossed in a television documentary about Falcone.

The arrest of Brusca, 36, and his brother, Vincenzo, in Agrigento dealt another blow to the Mafia which has been reeling since top bosses Salvatore Riina and Leoluca Bagarella ended up behind bars in 1993 and 1995 respectively. According to many mob turncoats, Brusca subsequently emerged as overall leader of the Mafia, but the in-fighting which accompanied the rise of this disciple of Riina is now destined to worsen as those still on the run battle it out for control.

Investigators had been closing in on Brusca since the beginning of this year. In January he managed to flee a hiding place while police were preparing to swoop. Since then, evidence from Mafia turncoats and painstaking search operations, including a bug on a suspect mobile phone, have allowed police to remain close on his tail. His exact location was discovered a week before the arrest, and 400 police officers were moved into the vicinity. Cash and jewellery worth tens of thousands of pounds were found with him.

Brusca has a special place in Mafia lore. Investigators believe that he pushed the button to detonate the explosion which killed the Sicilian mob's worst enemy, Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards on 23 May 1992. He is also implicated in the bomb blasts which rocked Rome, Florence and Milan in the summer of 1992, killing 11 people and wounding dozens more.

But it was the killing earlier this year of 11-year-old Giuseppe di Matteo, son of a Mafia turncoat, that confirmed Brusca's reputation as the Mafia's most pitiless killer. Giuseppe was kidnapped by two of Brusca's men and kept prisoner for months, in what proved a vain effort to stop his father testifying. Another supergrass has since told investigators that Brusca strangled the child with his own hands, then had his body dissolved in acid.

From the Palermo hinterland, Brusca assumed control of the San Giuseppe Iato "family" from his father, the legendary boss Bernardo Brusca, and reached the organised crime outfit's top ranks through his faithful support, first for "The Beast" Riina and then Riina's brother-in-law, Bagarella, later.

His arrest is a coup for Italy's new government, which promised to renew efforts at fighting organised crime after being sworn-in last Saturday. To underscore the importance attributed to this issue, justice and interior ministers, Giovanni Maria Flick and Giorgio Napolitano, visited Palermo on Sunday in their first official outing.

Topping the Italian state's most wanted list after Brusca's arrest are Bernardo Provenzano, the most likely heir to Riina who has eluded police for 25 years, Pietro Aglieri, the killer who went underground in 1989, and Mariano Troia, an up and coming boss who may well be prepared to challenge Provenzano's leadership.