Italy’s most notorious mafia boss captured after 35 years on the run | World | News
Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested yesterday in Sicily after 35 years on the run
The thin and frail man dressed in a brown and white woolen hat and an unprepossessing sheepskin jacket had arrived for his medical appointment in the Sicilian capital Palermo yesterday hoping for good news about her colon cancer. But rather than meet his consultant, he was surrounded within minutes by 100 heavily armed men bent on capturing him.
So, after an astonishing 33 years of freedom, mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro – nicknamed Diabolik – has finally been taken into custody. Not without one last escape attempt, however. As police stormed the building, the 60-year-old made one last run for freedom…only to be captured in a cafe attached to the private clinic.
Away from his phalanx of bodyguards, he looked puzzled as he was grabbed by Carabinieri police at La Maddalena hospital – where he had arrived for a check-up after apparently undergoing cancer surgery a year ago – and bundled up in a black van.
Italy’s most wanted mob boss, who allegedly ordered enough enemies to be killed to fill a graveyard, reportedly felt his own fear as his Cosa Nostra reign came to an end after more than three bloody decades.
On the streets of Palermo, residents shook hands with the elite police in balaclavas who had framed the mobster as they recalled the wave of terror unleashed on their island and across Italy with a series of bombings in the early 1990s.
The date of May 23, 1992, when the charismatic anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, 53, an icon of hope, was driving with his wife along the A29 motorway near Capaci, a town is etched in the hearts of many Law-abiding Italians. located between Palermo and the nearby airport.
A bomb containing 300 pounds of explosives sent the judge’s white Fiat Croma into the air and killed not only Falcone and his wife, Francesca, but also three escorting police officers.
Shock waves from the blast traveled from Sicily like an earthquake and spread around the world. Cosa Nostra boss Toto Riina and heiress apparent Messina Denaro had sent the strongest and bloodiest message from the Sicilian mafia to the authorities: we are invincible and no one is safe.
However, yesterday Maria Falcone, sister of the slain judge, said the arrest showed the state had fought back and was now winning the war against Italy’s mythical gangsters.
“It proves that the mafia, despite their illusions of omnipotence, are ultimately doomed in the conflict with the democratic state,” she said.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed the arrest as “a great victory for the state”.
And yet, it had taken 31 years to get justice for Judge Falcone and fellow mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, also killed in a targeted assassination for trying to corner the mob.
Messina Denaro had managed to have cancer surgery without the knowledge of the authorities and was going to follow-up appointments at the clinic under an assumed name.
His eyes hidden by designer sunglasses, it was impossible to read his mind yesterday. But in 2002 he was sentenced to life in absentia for numerous murders, so in theory he could soon start serving that outstanding sentence and will likely die in prison.
Besides the murders of prosecutors, his litany of crimes includes deadly 1993 bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome and the kidnapping and murder of a mobster’s 12-year-old son turned state witness. The youth was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
Magistrate Paolo Borsellino exploded in 1992
Messina Denaro, became the figurehead of Cosa Nostra, the true Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in The Godfather films.
The daily activities of the organization consisted of money laundering, racketeering, drug trafficking and, of course, dealing with enemies.
He was nicknamed Diabolik – or diabolical – and U Siccu, The Skinny One, but now the authorities will be closer to determining if he was the super boss of the Cosa Nostra or simply a figurehead of an organization whose power and reach have declined markedly over the past 10 years.
A blow came in 2013 when his sister Patrizia was arrested along with other associates. She was given a long sentence, limiting the influence of the Denaro clan.
With few photos available, Italian police did not have a clear idea of what he looked like in recent years and only released a recording of his voice in 2021.
A digital composite has been built to give an idea of its characteristics now.
As Italian authorities begin to try to figure out how he has controlled the empire for more than 30 years, Judge Gian Carlo Caselli, a former attorney general, said his arrest was an “exceptional event, simply historic”, which could open the way. to finally learn more about the wave of bombings in Italy that left 10 dead.
It wasn’t until 2016 that officials learned how Messina Denaro operated.
During a trial, it emerged he was communicating with other kingpins by placing handwritten notes in the backpack of a five-year-old girl. Former henchman Attilio Fogazza says Messina Denaro used to take his young daughter for ice cream and put notes in her bag.
Fogazza, who ran a used-car dealership, admitted helping investigators after he was arrested in 2015 for the murder of Salvatore Lombardo.
Now they will have access to some of the notes he wrote, notes that could shed new light on the death of Falcone and his brave colleague Borsellino, who were blown up in Palermo outside the building where his mother lived on July 19. 1992, at the age of 52. Five members of his escort party were also killed.
Following his murder, the tense mood in Sicily darkened to a deeper shade of red as fear and anxiety gripped the population.
However, the two high-profile killings prompted Italian police and judicial authorities to ruthlessly hunt down the killers among them. The tightening of the noose has become very effective, with more than 4,000 mafiosos rounded up, including 361 in 2011 and 300 in 2014.
One of the most significant arrests was that of Toto ‘The Beast’ Riina, in 1993. Riina, who had known Messina Denaro, who was to succeed her, as they were young men, allegedly directly ordered the death of the two anti -Mafia fighters.
Even behind bars, he ran the Cosa Nostra with the cruelty of a man who would be responsible for 150 murders. He wielded his power until his death from cancer in November 2017.
Sergio Lario, Palermo’s former anti-mafia chief executive, said three years ago: “Riina officially remained the boss of the Sicilian mafia until the day he died.”
There was an immediate power vacuum, which Messina Denaro tried to fill, although he struggled to be accepted as a super boss by many families, mainly because he hadn’t come from Palermo. Over the decades, Messina Denaro had proven effective in controlling the Sicilian coastal town of Trapani, but in the eyes of many it wasn’t enough to try and fill Riina’s blood-soaked designer shoes.
The Mafia has been further weakened by the state’s successes in getting members to cooperate and name names. Some 300 people provided valuable information to authorities, many of which shed light on the activities of Messina Denaro, who was forced to live constantly on the run as he became Italy’s most wanted man.
In 2019, Falcone’s sister Maria said: “Compared to the bosses of yesterday, who waged war on the Italian state, the new generation are chicken thieves.”
The extensive use of wiretaps and listening devices in the homes of active mafiosi gave investigators their best insight into criminal operations and the network of connections to international drug gangs in South America, particularly in Colombia. Between 1978 and 1983, the Sicilian mafia allegedly killed 1,000 people. Fortunately, the number of deaths has decreased considerably in recent years.
Another factor in the decline of the Sicilian Mafia in particular is the harsh prison regime for former gangsters.
They are banned from association with outside thugs by phone or mail and segregated in jail. In 2019, there was another hugely significant arrest. Marco Di Lauro, then 38, was captured in his Naples apartment. He was the fourth son of Paolo Di Lauro, who led the Camorra gang. An international arrest warrant for Marco was first issued in 2006. He was wanted for four murders.
Attitudes against the Camorra have hardened in Naples after 22-year-old Gelsomina Verde was murdered for dating a member of a rival clan. She was beaten and shot three times and left to die in a burning car.
Maria Falcone said her late brother once told her that the Mafia was a human phenomenon that would have a beginning and an end. This prophecy may yet come true with the arrest of Messina Denaro, a former playboy and womanizer in his youth who allegedly strangled a girlfriend when she became pregnant.
But there have been false dawns before.
In September 2021, a British Formula 1 fan from Liverpool was arrested in Holland after being mistaken for the mobster. He was eating with his son when armed police stormed the building.
Today, the Italian authorities will want to check and recheck that they have “capo di tutti capi”, the boss of bosses, finally under lock and key. The first signs are that, finally, they have their man.