Police search Calabrian village as murders are linked to clan feud

Italian police swarmed through the village of San Luca in Calabria yesterday, in the aftermath of the massacre in Duisburg, Germany, in which six men with roots in the village were slaughtered in their cars early on Wednesday morning.

Police searched dozens of houses and mounted road blocks in San Luca but made no arrests. Many of the houses where they conducted searches had been hastily abandoned, they said.

In Duisburg, German and Italian police examined poor quality video footage for clues to the identity of the killers. More than 70 bullets were fired at the six men as they sat in their cars. Each victim was then finished off with a bullet to the head, although one was still alive when police arrived at the scene. He died before he could reach hospital.

Germans were stunned by the attack. One local youth left a sign reading simply "Warum?" ("Why?") outside the restaurant.

It is the first time that the 'Ndrangheta, the tongue-twisting name of the crime syndicate of Calabria, the region at the toe of the Italian boot, have exported one of their feuds outside Italy. Hundreds of families with Calabrian roots live in Duisburg. The Pelle-Romeo clan, to which the victims have been linked, has been present in the city for about 20 years, and their rivals, the Strangio-Nirta, also have a presence there. Until this week, however, they had not clashed openly in the city.

Italian investigators said they believed that the attack was intended to eliminate one man, Marco Marmo, 25, who is under police investigation for suspected involvement in the murder of the wife of the godfather of another clan last Christmas. The other five may have been killed to eliminate witnesses, they said.

The killings were the latest and bloodiest round of murders in a 16-year-old vendetta that began when the members of one clan of the 'Ndrangheta threw eggs at members of a rival clan in San Luca. Bullets soon replaced eggs and Duisburg's Assumption Day massacre - occurring on the morning of Ferr'agosto, Italy's most important summer holiday - brought the number of victims in the feud to 15.

Although less well-known than Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, the Calabrian syndicate is deeply rooted and very wealthy. In a recent report, Italian intelligence agencies said it was richer and more powerful than any other criminal organisation in the country.

"With the 'Ndrangheta, the motives aren't only about honour but above all about economic interests - money laundering and drug trafficking," assistant police chief Nicola Cavaliere said. About 80 per cent of Europe's cocaine supply is believed to come in to the continent via Calabria.

John Dickie, the author of Cosa Nostra, a history of the Mafia, said: "These killings are exceptional and unusual because the Mafias have a huge interest in investing abroad, in property, hotels and restaurants. It's a bad idea to attract attention in this way.

"Cosa Nostra has pursued its wars abroad... but never on this scale. The 'Ndrangheta has both the strengths and the weaknesses of its looser organisation. It has the strength of greater flexibility - but the weakness of making mistakes like this.

"It also has the strengths and weaknesses that come from blood ties. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, there have been practically no turncoats because it would mean turning against your own flesh and blood. But the Calabrians are much more vulnerable to blood feud deterioration of this sort."

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