Shadow of Mafia returns to Italy

The latest murders in a mob turf war have switched the new government on to a racket that costs £100bn a year

Just before five o'clock on Tuesday evening, to the sound of grey waves lapping the nearby beach, nine gunshots rang out by a bar in Via Forni in the down-at-heel Roman seaside suburb of Ostia. One man lay dead; the other staggered 20 yards then collapsed in a pool of blood. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Both victims, Francesco Antonini, 45 and Giovanni Galleoni, 42, had criminal records for drugs and weapons offences as long their arms. And both had links with the capital's very own mini-mafia group, the dreaded Magliana Gang.

Tuesday night's killings bring Rome's gangland murder total to 30 this year, fuelling fears that a mob turf war in the capital is spiralling out of control and prompting demands from local politicians for the new government to act urgently to halt the growing power of organised crime in the capital.

"Enough," said Rome's conservative Mayor, Gianni Alemanno. "The new Minister of the Interior and the chief of police must take drastic measures and without delay. The capital must be defended from this assault by organised crime, the like of which we haven't seen since the 1970s."

The Magliana gang was a byword for brutality in the 1970s and 80s. Most notoriously, it was blamed for the kidnap and murder in 1983 of the daughter of a Vatican official, whose body was dumped into a cement-mixer. She had been abducted, it is believed, at the behest of Turkish extremists, who wanted to use her as a bargaining tool to win the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II. The group was thought to have withered away as senior members either died or got sent to prison. But its re-emergence has become more obvious by the month.

Organised crime experts belief the upsurge in violence in the capital is down to younger elements in the Magliana gang fighting over the drug trade and new conflicts between the re-emerging Roman gangsters and members of southern mafia groups such as 'Nrangheta and the Camorra, both of which have a strong presence in the city. Giancarlo Capaldo, one of Rome's anti-mafia prosecutors, says the violence in Rome indicates "reshaping power-balances between the criminal organisations".

Italy's new technocrat government should be all ears regarding Mayor Alemanno's plea for help. Premier Mario Monti has promised that targeting corruption and organised crime will be a priority, given the ruinous economic toll both take on the country's economy. But centre-left opposition politicians in Rome yesterday lambasted Mayor Alemanno himself for failing on his promises to clean up the capital, which they said, had become the new "Wild West", a term previously reserved for some of the most lawless southern parts of Italy, such as Calabria. The "Wild West" label highlights how organised crime, traditionally linked with the poor south of Italy, is constantly moving north to sink its tentacles into the richer cities.

Tuesday evening's brazen double killing and the events immediately after it, in which carabinieri officers were forced to call in reinforcements to fight off hostile crowds that had formed a barrier around the victims, were an indication of the omerta, or code of silence, that frequently obstructs police and magistrates. The feeling of lawlessness is particularly prevalent in this insalubrious seaside suburb, where the writer Pier Paolo Pasolini was mysteriously murdered in 1975. Less than three weeks ago, two thugs fired at an Egyptian green grocer, just missing him.

It is not just in the suburbs of Rome that people are afraid. In July, Flavio Simmi, a 33-year-old with links to the Magliana gang, was shot nine times by an assailant on a motor scooter on a Tuesday morning in a busy street in Rome's Prati district. This central area together with the San Giovanni and Parioli districts of the city are said to be among the worst for Magliana and 'Ndrangheta activity.

And it's not just mobsters and their associates who are victims. The latest interior ministry figures show how the number of businesses in the capital damaged or torched probably as a result of mob activity is rising, as are arrests, complaints and acts of violence in the capital related to extortion rackets.

The number of official complaints of extortion, which stood at 283 for the first eight months of this year compared to 363 for the whole of 2010, is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg, with hundreds or thousands of businesses forced to pay up to €2,000 a month. And the extortion rackets are just one sign of a deeper economic malaise.

The country south of Rome has been suffering this sort of criminality for decades. Experts such as Professor Panvoncello note the effect of mafia activity there has been disastrous on the local economy, with funds siphoned off and political and administrative infrastructure so decayed, that the already poor regions of Calabria, Campania and Sicily are often unable to spend the hardship grants given them by the EU.

All told, organised crime groups in Italy are thought to rake in £100bn a year. But to fight the Mob and remove a huge weight from Italy's struggling economy, experts say the government must do more to fight the "grey economy" as well as the black one.

Donato Masciandaro, an economist at Milan's Bocconi University and an expert in mafia finances, said: "In the Anglo-Saxon world, things such as corruption and legality are seen in terms of black and white. In Italy they are not, but they need to be."

The Magliana gang

1977 First criminal act: kidnap of Duke Massimiliano Grazioli Lante della Rovere.

1978 Suspected involvement in murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

1978 Made a deal with far-right criminologist Aldo Semerari, who was assassinated in 1982.

1980 Terrorist bombing in Bologna attributed to neofascist group NAR, to which the Magliana gang was affiliated.

1982 Linked to death Roberto Calvi, a banker with close ties to the Vatican who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, London.

1983 Linked to kidnap and murder of a Vatican official's daughter. Emanuela Orlandi's body was thrown into a cement mixer.

Jenny Stevens