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MAFIA

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

Ruthless Italian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro may have been captured this week after 30 years on the run, but his shadow still looms large over his Sicilian hometown of Castelvetrano.

Mafia boss hideout in Sicily
Police officers prevent access to mafia boss Messina Denaro's hideout in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

While some in Castelvetrano are relieved the barbarous 60-year-old is finally behind bars, many in the Cosa Nostra heartland where he grew up refuse to speak about him.

Since the arrest of Messina Denaro on Monday, passers-by in the town of nearly 30,000 people in Sicily’s southwest have hidden under umbrellas or walked faster to avoid the swarms of journalists from Italy and beyond.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

“We don’t like to talk much in this town,” muttered one old man, before he slipped away.

Messina Denaro, who was caught in Palermo while seeking cancer treatment, is considered the last of the old guard of Cosa Nostra –Sicily’s infamous mafia – with his power extending across the island’s west.

Michele, a 39-year-old architect out with his wife and baby, agreed to speak to AFP on condition his surname was not used.

“We are very happy. What should have happened a long time ago has finally happened,” he said. But he added: “Now it’s us who have to change, the whole city, because we could have already started to change before this arrest”.

Mayor Enzo Alfano said his town longed to clean up its reputation and “free itself from this leaden blanket that has stifled so many of the inhabitants”.

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

Castelvetrano dreams of being known “for what it is: a beautiful city with an archaeological park”, he said.

Nearby Selinunte, an ancient Greek settlement, boasts sumptuous temples looking out to sea.

But Alfano sounded a note of caution. “A page has certainly been turned, but we can in no way say that the Mafia has been defeated,” he told AFP.

“We must not lower our guard”.

Secrets

While Castelvetrano features a picturesque historic centre, the outskirts are an eyesore. Potholed roads are lined with half-built buildings while piles of rubbish litter the countryside.

The city’s coffers, once under state control due to mafia infiltration, are bare. Alfano is pinning his hopes on tourism.

He also wants answers: how did Messina Denaro manage to stay hidden for so long? Who was helping him?

The same questions plague 23-year-old anti-mafia activist Marta Capaccioni, as she stands outside the hideout of the boss, which police discovered earlier this week.

The small, non-descript apartment is in Campobello di Mazzara, 15 minutes away from Castelvetrano.

Wrapped up against the cold in a burgundy jacket and scarf, Capaccioni called it “shameful” that the fugitive had been able to live quietly in his home territory.

Messina Denaro, now behind bars on mainland Italy, has so far refused to talk to investigators.

But Capaccioni said the state had to do everything it could to get him to talk, because he is “a top Cosa Nostra boss who knows a lot of secrets”.

She said he could tell police about his role in the murder of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, slain in car bombings in 1992 for which the mobster has been convicted.

Messina Denaro might be able to shed some light on rumoured secret deals between the state and the organised crime organisation, Capaccioni said.

“This would open so many Pandora’s boxes about our country and the political parties that collaborated with the mafia,” she said.

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CRIME

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

A convicted murderer linked to one of Italy's most powerful mafia organisations was arrested on Thursday in central France, Interpol said.

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

Edgardo Greco, 63, is suspected of belonging to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful mafia organisation in Calabria, southern Italy.

He is wanted in Italy to serve a life sentence for the murders of Stefano and Giuseppe Bartolomeo, and accused of the attempted murder of Emiliano Mosciaro “as part of a mafia war between the Pino Sena and Perna Pranno gangs that marked the early 1990s”, Interpol said.

The Bartolomeo brothers were beaten to death with iron bars in a fish warehouse, Italian police said.

Greco’s arrest in central France came with help for Italy and France from the “Cooperation against ‘Ndrangheta Project” (I-CAN) run by Interpol, which facilitates police cooperation between its 195 member states.

READ ALSO: Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, quoted in Interpol’s statement, said the arrests demonstrated his country’s commitment to “fighting all forms of organised crime and locating dangerous fugitives”.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered Italy’s most extensive and powerful mafia group, Interpol said, operating worldwide and with strong ties to the trade in cocaine bound for Europe from South America

I-CAN’s job is help raise awareness of ‘Ndrangheta and their modus operandi, sharing police information to dismantle their networks and operations, the agency said.

The arrest of Greco, who worked in the evenings in a pizza restaurant under an assumed named according to Italian media, came a week after Italian police said it had dismantled a ‘Ndrangheta mafia ring dominating a large area of southern Calabria and seized assets exceeding 250 million euros.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

The arrest of Greco comes just over two weeks after Italian police arrested one of the most notorious bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro, who had been on the run for 30 years.

The 60-year-old was arrested after visiting a health clinic where he was being treated in the Sicilian capital Palermo

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