'New boss' of Mafia arrested

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The Independent Online

Police have raided a summit of Mafia dons in Sicily, arresting a longtime fugitive who authorities say was revitalizing the crime syndicate's ties with US mobsters and was vying to become Cosa Nostra's next "boss of bosses."

The capture yesterday of Salvatore Lo Piccolo, on the run for more than a decade, dealt another blow to the Sicilian Mafia, already weakened by several recent arrests, outmuscled by other underworld groups and facing an unprecedented challenge to one of its main sources of income: the extortion racket.

"It's a tough blow ... because they (the Lo Piccolo family) were in charge of restructuring the Mafia," said Francesco Forgione, head of Italy's anti-Mafia parliamentary commission.

Lo Piccolo, sentenced to life in prison for murder and on the run since 1993, was captured in a morning raid on a house in the countryside outside Sicily's capital, Palermo, police said.

Also arrested were Lo Piccolo's 32-year-old son Sandro — another top Mafia figure sentenced to life in prison and wanted since 1998 — as well as two men accused of being local bosses, both on Italy's list of 30 most wanted fugitives, officials in Palermo said.

Investigators believe Lo Piccolo, 65, could have eventually emerged from a power struggle as the Mafia's new "capo di tutti i capi" following the capture of top boss Bernardo Provenzano, the reputed No. 1 of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate. Provenzano, who was on the run for more than 40 years, was arrested on a farm near Corleone, Sicily, in April 2006.

"After the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano, it was the turn of the Lo Piccolos," Palermo Police Chief Giuseppe Caruso told the Italian news agency ANSA. "We were on the trail of the bosses for a long time, and this is a great result."

Caruso said that in the last two months investigators closely watched the house in the village of Giardinello because it was there that Lo Piccolo would huddle with fellow mobsters.

Police then bided their time in the hunt for Lo Piccolo, reasoning that "surely he was about to hold another operational meeting," Caruso said.

Yesterday's summit was taking place in a small storage room at the back of the house when police surrounded the building and fired warning shots, forcing the men inside to come out and surrender. Separately, two men accused of aiding the Lo Piccolos in their run from the law were arrested, police in Palermo said.

Prosecutors say Lo Piccolo, who is from Palermo, was vying to become Cosa Nostra's unchallenged top boss, pitted against another fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro, a younger boss from the city of Trapani, in western Sicily.

Denaro has been on Italy's wanted list since 1993 for murder and other crimes.