‘Stop the violence’: Italians march to remember woman found dismembered in Macerata

Around 200 people participated in a torchlit march in Macerata, central Italy on Tuesday, in honour of an 18-year-old woman whose dismembered body was found there last week.

'Stop the violence': Italians march to remember woman found dismembered in Macerata
A view over Macerata. File photo: Abraham Sobkowski/Wikimedia Commons

Police found the body of 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro in two suitcases on January 31st, though the cause of her death has not yet been established by investigators.

“It is inhuman what they did to my daughter; an absurd violence,” her mother was quoted by the Ansa news agency as saying at Tuesday's march. “Pamela's death could have been avoided.”

She had earlier described Mastropietro in a public Facebook post as “cheerful, spirited, beautiful, good-hearted, helpful to everyone, kind, a bit sensitive, generous… she was a lioness”.

She has also announced her intention to set up a non-profit organization in her daughter's memory, to offer support to young people in need. The 18-year-old had left a rehab facility just two days before her death, Italy's Rai News reported.

On Tuesday, protesters carried candles through the rain, as well as banners reading 'Stop the violence'.

Two men are currently under investigation in connection with Mastropietro's death. One of them is currently in detention for concealing and showing contempt for a body, but not for homicide, due to insufficient evidence. He remains under investigation for this crime, but denies all charges and has told investigators the woman died of a drug overdose and he ran away.

The other man is suspected of selling drugs to the woman. It is not yet clear how Mastropietro died, and investigators have not ruled out a drug overdose as the cause.

The woman's family have denounced a drive-by shooting in which six foreign citizens were injured, which the suspect said was prompted by the news a Nigerian man had been arrested over Mastropietro's murder. This attack has prompted debate on Italy's immigration policy and divisive political rhetoric ahead of March's general election.

Though the suspected shooter, Luca Traini, did not know the 18-year-old, he told investigators that when he heard about her death, “instinctively I turned around, I went home, I opened the safe and took the pistol and decided to kill them all.” Traini also said he has “no regret” for the injuries he caused, except for the one female victim. He is being held in custody on suspicion of attempted mass murder aggravated by racial hatred.

Traini has a fascist-inspired tattoo and is also a member of the far-right Northern League who ran in local elections last year. 

However, Northern League leader denied a political link to the shooting, saying “the moral responsibility of every incident of violence that happens in Italy is that of those who have filled it with illegal immigrants.” Coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi, who leads the Forza Italia party, also described the shooting as “non-political” and called immigration “a social bomb ready to explode”.

Traini's lawyer said on Monday: “In Macerata, people stop me to give messages of solidarity with Luca. It's alarming, but it gives us a sense of what is happening.”

And in Rome, a large banner reading 'Onore a Luca Traini' (Honour to Luca Traini) was photographed on a bridge over the Tiber river.

READ ALSO: 'It could have been me': Shooting highlights racial tensions ahead of Italian election


‘Very violent’: How Italy’s youngest mafia is terrorising the Puglia region

SPECIAL REPORT: The Italian state is finally paying attention to a “fourth mafia” operating in the southern Puglia region, and experts say it's the country's youngest, least evolved, and most violent crime syndicate of all.

'Very violent': How Italy’s youngest mafia is terrorising the Puglia region

It took a loaded pistol pointed at Lazzaro D’Auria’s head for the Italian landowner to finally say yes to the demands of the country’s newest and most violent mafia.

The Puglia farmer had resisted their extortion attempts in the past; threats, fires, and damage to his crops and property.

But an early morning visit from a dozen men, including a boss with a gun, forced him to agree to their demand for 150,000 euros a year.

Instead of paying up the next day, D’Auria went to the police, making him one of the few people to ever denounce Foggia’s little-known and long-ignored mafia known for its extreme violence.

 “If more citizens pressed charges, the local mafia could be weakened,” D’Auria, who has lived under police protection since 2017, told AFP.

READ ALSO: ‘We don’t talk much here’: Silence grips Sicilian mafia boss hometown

“Citizens, speak out!” implored the 57-year-old, who sees recent crackdowns by authorities as a sign the mafia can be weakened if locals overcome their fears

Farmer Lazzaro D’Auria being escorted by police in the province of Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Its bloody clan wars were once dismissed as farmers’ feuds, but the local mafia operating in the northern part of the Puglia region is finally setting off alarm bells inside the Italian state.

It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Fourth Mafia’ – after Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta and Naples’ Camorra.

But interest in its activities has come late, as Italy’s youngest mafia already has a stranglehold over the province.

“It’s a rudimentary, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” said Ludovico Vaccaro, Foggia’s public prosecutor.

While the other main mafias have graduated to less visible, more profitable activities, including infiltrating the legitimate economy, the Foggia mafia is still in a nascent phase.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: Captured boss’s cousin speaks out against ‘mafia culture’

“Today the mafias have evolved, so they shoot less, seeking a strategy of silence to stay unnoticed,” Vaccaro said.

“Whereas this is still a mafia that, to show its power over the territory, shoots and kills.”

Foggia Public Prosecutor, Ludovico Vaccaro pictured at his office in Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The ‘Foggia mafia’ is a catch-all label for a syndicate comprising different groups.

The province of Foggia has Italy’s third-highest homicide rate, and five of the 16 murders last year were mafia-related.

Family-based ‘battalions’ from different areas often cooperate, dividing extortion money that pays associates and prisoners.

When conflicts sometimes arise over the division of the illicit proceeds, there are quarrels and the battalions clash and start killing each other,” said deputy police chief Mario Grassia.

Each group has its speciality, from military-style armed robberies of freight trucks in Cerignola to the old-school tactics used in the city of Foggia, where nighttime bombings of storefronts and cars persuade hesitating shopkeepers to pay up.

Farmers in San Severo like D’Auria often find their olive trees felled, their harvests torched or tractors or livestock stolen.

In Gargano, whose spectacular coast welcomes tourists as well as Albanian drug shipments, the mafia is particularly violent.

The Gargano mafia’s grisly calling card, authorities say, is shooting victims in the face, or dumping them in caves.

READ ALSO: PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro’s reign of terror

“It’s easy to hide things. Every once in a while we find something serious, stolen cars, bodies of missing people,” prosecutor Vaccaro said.

An aerial photo of the city of Foggia, southern Italy. (Photo by Giovanni GREZZI / AFP)

During a recent drive with police through the city of Foggia, AFP saw countless reminders of the bloodshed that has terrorised the population for decades.

“Right now there’s no mafia war, but there’s a settling of accounts,” said a detective who requested anonymity.

Deputy chief Grassia said he was particularly concerned by three of last year’s murders being committed by minors.

“Those participating in these gangs have kinship ties with subjects linked to organised crime,” he said.

The newest danger posed by the mafia is infiltrating public institutions. Foggia’s city council was dissolved in 2021 due to mafia infiltration and its mayor arrested on corruption charges, one of five local governments in the province dissolved since 2015.

A police detective checks inside a building in Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

In recent years a number of top bosses, including Rocco Moretti and Roberto Sinesi, have been jailed as authorities try to wrest control of the territory from the mafia.

But the upcoming release of one of their rivals, Raffaele Tolonese, and last month’s prison escape of Gargano boss Marco Raduano, underscore the challenges.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to seek to reassure locals, pledging to reinforce security, including adding what local authorities say are badly-needed surveillance cameras and street lamps.

Beyond those basics, argued Vaccaro, more police, prosecutors and courts are desperately needed to counter the “climate of fear and intimidation, the cultural and social poverty” in the deprived area.

Only one courthouse serves the entire province, which has a backlog of over 12,000 criminal cases waiting to be tried.

“In this vast territory, either the state has control, or the criminals will take it,” said Vaccaro.

By AFP’s Alexandria Sage