18 arrested in Falcone murder investigation: Italian judges reconstruct last moments of anti-Mafia crusader

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The Independent Online
A DETAILED reconstruction of the assassination of the anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, and the names of 18 mafiosi believed to have been involved, were revealed by Sicilian magistrates yesterday.

The announcement, 18 months after Falcone, his wife, Francesca, and his three-man escort were blown up by a bomb placed under a motorway near Palermo airport, was an important success in the fight against the Mafia. It was based on records of cellular telephone traffic, bugging of mafiosi's phones, homes and prison cells, forensic science techniques and the confessions of a new pentito (turncoat), who had a central role in the plot.

The assassination on 23 May 1992, followed by that of his colleague Paolo Borsellino two months later, was a turning-point in attitudes to the Mafia. The authorities began cracking down while the silence which had long protected the Mafia evaporated.

Eighteen arrest warrants for the alleged members of the plot were issued by the magistrates of Caltanissetta who are heading investigations. Ten of the alleged culprits are already in jail, five were arrested and the others are being sought.

The assassination was organised by the Mafia's savage, dominant Corleone clan and allegedly led by Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, the Mafia's boss of all bosses, now in jail under two life sentences. The magistrates said they were still trying to establish precisely who commissioned the assassination and whether, as is suspected, 'deviant' members of the secret services were involved.

Falcone's movements, which were kept strictly secret, had been watched by three spies, in Rome, in Palermo where his Sicilian escort and their bullet-proof cars were based, and at Palermo's Punta Raisi airport, the magistrates said. The look-outs and the killers with their remote-control detonator had waited in their positions for five days until the magistrate and his wife came to Sicily to spend a weekend at their home there.

At 5.49pm their special plane landed at Punta Raisi and Gioacchino La Barbera called on his cellular telephone to Giovanni Brusca and Antonino Goie waiting - the latter chain-smoking - on a hill overlooking the spot where a huge quantity of explosive was hidden. For six minutes he reported on the motorcade's position, then switched off. At that instant Brusca pressed the detonator button.

FBI forensic experts identified Goie's DNA in the saliva on cigarette stubs dropped on the hillside. He later hanged himself in prison.

Some of the reconstruction was based on evidence by Santo di Matteo, a local Mafia boss and owner of the cellular telephone. Faced with overwhelming evidence against him he turned pentito.