Fifth mafia boss is killed as gang war grips Italian south

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The vicious mafia war in Naples has spread to the city's historic Spanish quarter, where the Camorra clan boss Edoardo Bove was murdered in his fortified home on Wednesday night, hours after President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi warned of a mafia crisis in the south.

The shooting of Bove, 28, was the fifth gangland killing in Naples in five days, and came in the wake of the arrest this week of Francesco Romito, a 62-year-old kingpin who was once convicted of the murder of two Neapolitan mafia footsoldiers.

Returning to Rome from Naples, after a visit to the notorious mafia district of Scampia, President Ciampi had told reporters that "the Camorra is a cancer that needs to be cut out". But anti-mafia priests and other community leaders in Forcella, a stone's throw from the lavish hotels lining Naples' famous bay, said the Bove slaying underlined that Mob-infested districts in Naples had been all but "abandoned" by the forces of law and order.

Bove was killed by a hitman who talked his way past relatives to gain access to his living room, where he shot him in the head three times with a pistol. As has happened before during violent episodes in the escalating gang war, relatives of the dead man refused to open the apartment's steel-plated doors when officers arrived to investigate the slaying.

A crowd of Camorra women massed in the narrow street outside, screaming abuse at police and Carabinieri to prevent them arresting people in the slum neighbourhood, which is now in effect a no-go area to city authorities. Local clerics such as Father Luigi Merola, a parish priest in Forcella, reacted furiously to the murder. Nine months ago, Fr Merola led an honest citizens' revolt when a 14-year-old girl, Annalisa Durante, was shot and killed in crossfire from a Camorra gun battle in the district. A short time afterwards the crusading priest led torchlit protests throughout Forcella, as local politicians targeted the neighbourhood and authorities seized a considerable number of properties belonging to Camorra hoodlums.

Since then, according to Fr Merola, "we have been abandoned as soon as the television lights in our district were extinguished. Once the Camorra war spread elsewhere, the politicians forgot about us and the forces of law and order gradually went away."

Police said Bove was murdered for disloyalty to the titular Camorra boss in Forcella, Vincenzo Mazzarella, who was arrested by Italian and French police last month at a hideout near Disneyland Paris.

On Wednesday the police arrested Giovanni Cortese, 24, described as the "spokesman" for Paolo Di Lauro, the Camorra boss who set off a gang war in Scampia to "discipline" unruly underlings who sought to set up independent extortion rackets.

La Repubblica described Cortese as a "messenger of death" whose role had been to pass to hitmen the order by Camorra dons to murder Gelsomina Verde, a 20-year-old woman without a criminal record who was notoriously gunned down as a warning to Camorristi with whom she was friendly. One of the most terrifying aspects of the recent violence in Naples has been the gangsters' resort to killing innocent relatives or associates of rivals. Such vendettas have torn up the old rules of honour obeyed in the past by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and to a large extent by Neapolitan mobsters.

Judge Giandomenico Lepore, the investigator heading the inquiries into the bloody clan feud, said: "It is difficult to know in advance who are the targets of the killers, they are unpredictable."

Meanwhile, police were trying to reach Bove's lover, Anna "a pallona" (the ball) Giuliano, a legendary figure in Camorra circles. The sister of the former "King of Forcella", Luigi Giuliano, she had been living with Bove, who became the third of her companions to be shot.