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CRIME

Italian police seize ‘combat ready’ missile during raids on far right extremists

Italian police seized an air-to-air missile, machine guns and rocket launchers during raids sparked by an investigation into far-right extremist groups on Monday, a huge haul of weapons that authorities said was almost without precedent.

Italian police seize 'combat ready' missile during raids on far right extremists
Photo: Italian police

Police arrested three people, including Fabio Del Bergiolo, 50, a former candidate for the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party, whose home was found to contain a huge stash of arms as well as neo-Nazi propaganda and Hitler memorabilia.

“During the operation, an air-to-air missile in perfect working order and used by the Qatari army was seized,” police said of the 245-kilogramme (540-pound) Matra missile. 

They also found automatic assault rifles that they described as “latest generation” among the cache.

 

 

“This is a significant seizure, with few precedents in Italy,” said Turin police commissioner Giuseppe De Matteis.

The missile, 3.54 metres (more than 11 feet) long was made in France and Del Bergiolo had been hoping to sell it for 470,000 euros ($529,000), according to Italian media reports.

The missile was “without explosive charge, but re-armable by people specialised in the field,” police said.

“For now, nothing leads us to suspect” an active plot to use the weapons, said counter-terrorism official Eugenio Spina.

The other arrests were a Swiss, 42, and an Italian, 51, accused of holding and marketing the missile, which was found by police at a warehouse near the small Rivanazzano Terme airport in the Pavia province.

'Extremely dangerous'

The Mantra Super 530 F was a modernisation of the R530 missile that went into service in 1980, and has a range of 25 kilometres (15 miles), with an explosive charge of 30 kilos.

“It is extremely dangerous and risky to turn it into a missile to fire from the ground, unless you have good engineers and equipment,” a missile expert who asked not to be named told AFP.

Similarly, because of its age, it is “extremely unlikely that it can be used, but its use can be changed,” he added.

The raids were the result of a police probe into Italian extremists known to have joined pro-Russian rebels fighting in Ukrainian.

Messages intercepted by the police led them to investigate Del Bergiolo, who had sent photographs of the missile for sale through the Whatsapp messaging service.

They put him under surveillance before raiding his home and finding a stash of weapons including a Scorpion machine gun, 306 firearm parts and 20 bayonets.

His collection included street signs from the Nazi era, including one reading “Adolf-Hitler Platz”.

Trafficking war weapons

Police in Pavia also found the cockpit of a military plane.

The Digos law enforcement agency, which deals largely with terrorism and organised crime, led the operation from Turin with assistance from police in Forli, Milan, Novara and Varese.

“We have some idea about what the seized equipment could be used for, but will not speculate,” De Matteis told reporters.

The Forza Nuova party released a statement Monday distancing itself from Del Bergiolo.

Police have carried out several raids in recent weeks on far-right targets around Turin, with a man arrested earlier this month for advocating fascism and possessing illegal weapons.

While Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini was uncharacteristically quiet following the raid, the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) urged the country's populist government to do more to tackle right-wing extremists.

“The far right in this country trafficks weapons of war, and even missiles. It's an incredible, very serious event,” said Maurizio Martina, the PD's former party head.

 

 

 

 

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CRIME

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

Thirty years ago, the Sicilian mafia killed judge Giovanni Falcone with a bomb so powerful it was registered by experts monitoring volcanic tremors from Etna on the other side of the island.

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

The explosion, which ripped through a stretch of motorway near Palermo at 5.56 pm on May 23rd 1992, sent shockwaves across Italy, but also signalled the start of the mafia’s decline.

Anti-mafia prosecuting magistrate Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort were killed.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend.

At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

The three policemen on board were killed instantly.

READ ALSO: Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Falcone, whose wife was sitting beside him, had slowed seconds before the explosion and the car slammed into a concrete guard rail.

His chauffeur, who was sitting in the back, survived, as did the three agents in the convoy’s rear.

A “garden of memory” now stands on the site of the attack. Oil from olive trees that grow there is used by Sicilian churches for anointing children during baptisms and confirmations.

‘Mafia massacre’

Falcone posed a real threat to the Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by “The Godfather” trilogy and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

It was he who gathered evidence from the first mafia informants for a groundbreaking trial in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

And at the time of the attack, he headed the justice ministry’s criminal affairs department in Rome and was working on a package of anti-mafia laws.

His murder woke the nation up. The Repubblica daily attacked the “mafia massacre” in its headline the next day, with a photo of the famous moustachioed magistrate, while thousands of people in Palermo protested in the streets.

All eyes turned to fellow anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s close friend and colleague, who gave an interview at the start of July saying the “extreme danger” he was in would not stop him doing his job.

On July 19th, just 57 days after his friend, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Amid national outrage, the state threw everything it had at hunting down Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore (Toto) Riina, who was involved in dozens of murders during a reign of terror lasting over 20 years.

Riina was arrested on January 15th, 1993, in a car in Palermo.

The truth?

The murders of Falcone and Borsellino “in the long term turned out to be a very bad business for Cosa Nostra, whose management team was decapitated by arrests and informants’ confessions”, Vincenzo Ceruso, author of several books on the mafia, told AFP.

Dozens of people have been convicted for their roles in the assassinations.

But Roberto di Bella, now an anti-mafia judge at the Catania juvenile court in Sicily, said that while “the majority of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted”, there remained “a part that is still not clear”.

Survivors insist there are still bits of the puzzle missing and point to Falcone’s belief there could be “possible points of convergence between the leaders of Cosa Nostra and the shadowy centres of power”.

“We still don’t have the truth about who really ordered the murder of Giovanni Falcone, because I don’t believe that ignorant people like Toto Riina could have organised an attack as sophisticated as that in Capaci,” Angelo Corbo, one of the surviving bodyguards, said in a documentary.

He said he was not alone in believing there were “men in suits and ties” among the mobsters.

However, an investigation into possible “hidden orchestrators” of the Capaci attack was thrown out in 2013.

“There is no evidence of the existence of external backers. There is no doubt that these are mafia acts,” author Ceruso said.

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