Mafia chiefs seized as they select godfather

More than 1,000 officers swoop on suspected Cosa Nostra gangsters

Italian police have arrested 94 suspected Mafia gangsters who they claimed were on the brink of creating a command structure under a new godfather to relaunch Cosa Nostra as a power in the land.

In a huge pre-dawn operation, more than 1,000 officers swooped on dozens of addresses in Palermo and around Sicily. Masked officers climbed gates and tore down walls as helicopters hovered, pouncing on known mafiosi, many with long prison terms behind them.

Since the 2006 arrest of the top mobster, Bernardo Provenzano, the Sicilian Mafia's ranks have been in disarray and investigators said yesterday's operation had been unleashed as gangsters were planning to reconstitute the so-called "Provincial Commission", a cabinet under a new boss with absolute power. "If that [Provenzano] operation... brought Cosa Nostra to its knees, this prevented it from getting up again," Italy's anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pietro Grasso, told reporters.

Yesterday's operation was codenamed Perseus, after the Greek mythological hero who beheaded Medusa, and Mr Grasso said it "severed all the strategically important heads of a new ruling structure that had to deliberate, as it once did, on all serious acts".

Historically, the Provincial Commission was the executive body that decided on the Mafia's most notorious atrocities, including the murders of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the investigating magistrates killed by road bombs in 1992.

Investigators said a preliminary summit meeting was held on 14 November. From bugged phone conversations, they obtained a full list of those present and those who had sent their apologies, as well as details of the issues discussed and the decisions adopted. The object, as one bugged gangster put it, was to "re-establish Cosa Nostra" in the old style, with a single all-powerful boss, a "capo di capi".

While other Italian Mafia outfits – in particular the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta and the Camorra from Campania -- have enjoyed vigorous growth in recent years, the Sicilian Mafia has been floundering since the spectacular arrest of Provenzano.

The mobster, known as the Tractor for his propensity to mow people down, had been a wanted man for more than 40 years. For much of that time, he eluded arrest by refusing to use telephone, post, fax or computer, relying solely on minuscule notes typed by him and delivered by a complex network of couriers. When police cracked the code used in the notes, they discovered his hideout and were able to dismantle much of his organisation. As a result, the Sicilian Mafia has been recovering its strength only slowly and with great difficulty.

A younger generation of Mafia leaders cast aside Provenzano's reluctance about using the phone, allowing police to amass a huge quantity of wiretap information, the key to yesterday's success.

Detectives learnt that the efforts to rebuild the Sicilian Mafia were being supervised from behind bars by Provenzano and his predecessor, Salvatore Riina, the brutal head of the Mob during its most violent phase, who is still regarded as the Mafia's ultimate authority. Riina was arrested in 1993, and is now serving a life sentence for his numerous murders.

The third veteran gangster involved in breathing new life into the Mob was Matteo Messina Denaro from the Trapani, who is still on the run. The three veterans had apparently agreed on the choice of another old-timer, Benedetto Capizzi from the Villagrazia section of Palermo, to be the new boss of bosses.

Investigators said Operation Perseus had taken nine months and that its denouement had been brought forward when they learned from wiretaps that one of the "families" within the Palermo Mafia – Porta Nuova – objected to the choice of Capizzi as the new head of the organisation. As a result, police feared a killing spree and the outbreak of a new Mafia civil war.

Investigators said many of those arrested yesterday had recently been released from prison on health grounds, and were serving out their sentences under house arrest. They held clandestine gang meetings in Palermo's municipal hospitals, the only place outside their homes where they were allowed to spend time under the terms of their release.

94

Number of suspected Mafia gangsters arrested in yesterday's raids across Sicily.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor