Mafia claims third victim in two days

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The Independent Online
Palermo - It was a classic Mafia hit. Two men drove up to a building yard in the Brancaccio district of Palermo at 7.30am yesterday and gunned down Salvatore Vitale, a construction worker with connections to one of the better-known gangs in the Sicilian underworld, writes Andrew Gumbel.

Nobody saw the crime, and the killers disappeared without trace.

The incident might have gone almost unnoticed during one of Cosa Nostra's periodic wars, but the Mafia is supposed to have been severely weakened by the recent series of confessions and arrests and Sicily has been uncannily quiet. Until this week.

Vitale was the third person in two days to be gunned down in the capital. On Thursday morning Marcello Grado, 23-year-old son of a notorious Mafia gangster, was shot in the head next to a busy vegetable market. His friend, Luigi Vullo, was hit in the neck and hand and died of his wounds.

The Palermo killings follow hot on the heels of an explosion of violence in Corleone, headquarters of the most powerful of the Cosa Nostra clans which has not seen a murder since the late Seventies.

"We've got a Mafia war on our hands," declared Leoluca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo who yesterday held an emergency meeting with the city's chief prosecutor, Gian Carlo Caselli, as well as senior police officers and government officials.

If the Mayor is right, then a lot more bloodshed can be expected. The last Mafia war in the early Eighties produced scores of corpses on the streets of Palermo and in the clan strongholds in the surrounding towns and villages. Since the early Eighties, the Corleonesi have been in the driving seat of the Mafia's vast international trade in drugs, money-laundering and influence-peddling. The clan has been hard hit, however, by the revelations of a string of informers leading to the arrest of their leader, Toto Riina. The Mayor believes someone may now be trying to challenge their supremacy.

Not everyone agrees with Mr Orlando. Some experts believe the Mafia is merely giving a show of force to remind the world that it is still very much alive. Others believe the spate of deaths could be a reaction to the decision this week to send the former Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, to trial on charges of criminal association with Cosa Nostra.

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