Tue, Dec 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Italy tries to curb mafia violence

MOB RULES Armed police are rounding up leading gang members, but as the drug trade war rages on, government officials are being incriminated in the violence, too

THE GUARDIAN , London

Ciro Di Lauro, second on left, son of a Camorra (local mafia) godfather Paolo Di Lauro, is one of 53 Mafia suspects taken into police custody this month as part of a massive police swoop in a bid to staunch the bloodletting in a turf war which has killed more than 120 people.

PHOTO: AFP

The mafia's laws are simple: avoid killing if you can, and kill discreetly if you can't. However, laws were made to broken. And in the past few weeks they have been broken a lot.

Mob violence, once thought to be a distant bad memory in Italy, has gripped Naples, the country's grimy, crime-ridden southern city.

Last week thousands of heavily armed police -- backed by helicopters and sniffer dogs -- launched a series of raids aiming at rounding up the gunmen, extortionists and drug-runners responsible. But, despite the arrest of the supposed reigning capo di capi and 50 others, no one believes the bloodshed is over. Indeed, many fear it will spread.

More than 100 have died after factions of one of the mafia's most notorious families turned against one another earlier this year.

Bodies have been found in burnt-out cars, teenagers have been shot off their scooters, aspiring drug-pushers executed among hanging salamis in a delicatessen. In a touch worthy of The Godfather films, one alleged mafioso was shot as he ate dinner in a restaurant, dying face down in his pizza.

Now investigators fear that the battle could spread, dragging southern Italy into a welter of shootings and beatings.

The violence began in June, when a young and inexperienced boss -- a former hitman called Ciro di Lauro, who was running the city's rundown Scampia quarter on behalf of his fugitive father -- allegedly ordered the murder of two rebellious young lieutenants. With control of a US$21 billion a year drugs trade at stake, the killings rapidly escalated. In one particularly violent weekend, six gang members died.

The battle is fundamentally between clan members loyal to Paolo di Lauro, 51, who is on the run from a government arrest warrant after 20 years running Scampia, and an ambitious new generation of gangsters who want a larger cut of the drugs profits. It is unremittingly brutal. One elderly man was beaten to death for failing to reveal where his stepson was. The body of a 22-year-old woman, who had reportedly refused to reveal the whereabouts of her gang-member boyfriend, was found in her burnt-out Fiat.

There have been other signs of the strain the war is imposing on the population of Naples' northern suburbs. Children are missing school because their families are on the run. Homes and businesses are regularly torched. Even many of the Christmas lights hanging in shop windows are not merely decorations, but part of a sophisticated protection racket.

Public prosecutor Giuseppe Narducci warned one newspaper that the conflict could spread from the Di Lauro clan to involve other powerful crime families. "What is happening is the result of a fracture within a single group, a fratricidal war," he said. "One of the factions could seek outside support or alliances."

Technically, the mob in Naples is known as the camorra and has been active for centuries, surviving periodic waves of repression.

The government has sent 300 extra police and made 700 arrests since the autumn, including Vincenzo Mazzarella, 48, head of one of the families, who was detained at a hotel near EuroDisney outside Paris.

Amato Lamberti, a sociology professor at Naples University who has studied the camorra for 30 years, has no doubts about the reason for the violence: "Naples has become the most important drugs market in the Mediterranean. The war is to control the traffic."

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