After years of calm, Mob war returns to Naples

Police swoop on dozens of drugs suspects after brother of gang boss is shot dead in café

Naples, the evocative but crime-plagued southern port, fears the bloodiest mob turf war in recent Italian history is set to resume on the city's streets.

The first sign was the seaside assassination of 48-year-old mobster Gaetano Marino on 23 August. He was gunned down in his swimming trunks in front of terrified bathers at the Terracina resort half way between Rome and Naples. Then in the early hours of Sunday morning came the response: the killing of Raffaele Abete, 41, in a bar in the Camorra-riddled Scampia area of the city. Both victims were the brothers of bosses who head opposing factions in Scampia, the drug-infested area which formed the backdrop to the mafia film Gomorrah.

The tit-for-tat murders have raised fears of a continuation of the infamous Scissionisti ("Secessionist") drug wars, in which more than 60 people were killed in Naples in an orgy of violence between 2004 and 2005. That conflict prompted a public backlash against the Camorra with a huge crackdown by the authorities and the arrest of senior bosses.

The latest ominous developments have seen police and carabinieri reinforcements flood into Scampia.

Corriere della Sera reported yesterday that officers had held dozens of people in possession of drugs and weapons, while two assassins had been captured on their way to another hit as part of the escalating feud.

"We've carried out strong controls in the territory at Scampia. But it's probably not enough and we've got to do more," said Anna Maria Cancellieri, the Interior Minister.

The surge in violence is blamed on a turf war for the lucrative drug market in the north of the city. The proponents are thought to be factions of the Scissionisti, who themselves broke away from the ruling Di Lauro clan in 2004. That conflict between the Di Lauro and the Scissionisti became one of the bloodiest internecine battles ever seen among Italian mobsters.

The fight then and now is over one of Europe's biggest local narcotics markets, thought to be worth more than €100m a year. The Naples police chief, Luigi Merolla, blamed "young drug dealers looking to increase space with daring operations".

"It recalls the Corleonesi [the Sicilian crime family] when they launched their internal coup in Cosa Nostra", he told La Stampa.

However, one Camorra expert, Corrado De Rosa, an author and expert witness at mafia trials, said the return to the level of bloodshed of 2004-5 was unlikely because the nature of the Camorra had changed.

"The Camorra in Scampia has fragmented," he said. "There have been lots of high-profile arrests and there aren't the same big power blocks any more to organise the violence.

"It's more like New York or Bogata now. There are just as many vicious and dangerous people in circulation, but there isn't the same degree of organisation." But he noted too, that the more chaotic nature of the Camorra made it even more difficult for the police and magistrates to stem their activities.

A leading church figure said whether or not the Camorra succeeded in killing each other, the corrosive social and economic effect they had on the city and surrounding region, showed few signs of abating.

Crescenzio Sepe, the Archbishop of Naples, said: "The Camorra is a tumour. It's an animal that when you cut its head off, two more grow back. All this [new violence] was predictable."

Disorganised crime: the Camorra conflict

The notorious Camorra war of 2004-5 kicked off when discontents known as the Scissionisti (the Secessionists) within the all-powerful Di Lauro clan in northern Naples set up rival operations.

The rebels were led by Raffaele Amato, known as the Spaniard. He formed alliances with other top mobsters in Naples, including Gennaro Marino and Arcangelo Abete – the Camorristi whose brothers have been killed in the latest violence.

The Di Lauro clan responded in October 2004 by killing two key rebels, Fulvio Montanino and Claudio Salerno. At their funeral, police arrested two Di Lauro hit men with machine guns, who were apparently there to carry out a massacre.

The subsequent murder of a 22-year-old woman, Gelsomina Verde, by Di Lauro mobsters seeking information on the whereabouts of another Scissionisti leader triggered outrage.

The Interior Minister sent an extra 325 police men into the city culminating in the operation on December 7, 2004, involving officers, that saw 52 people arrested.

Within nine months the Di Lauro leadership and Raffaele Amato were behind bars. But in less than 18 months 60 people were murdered.

Two weeks after his arrest in September 2005, Paulo Di Lauro, above left, famously kissed Vincenzo Pariante, one of the Scissionisti leaders, during an appearance in court.

This was seen as a sign that the feud had ended. But now it seems fresh feuds are brewing.

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