The unprecedented settling of scores in Germany between rival clans of Italy's 'ndrangheta crime syndicate shows how the group's small-town business and vendettas have gone global, analysts and Italian officials said.
Six Italians were gunned down execution-style on Wednesday in the industrial German city of Duisburg in what officials said was the latest chapter in a local 'ndrangheta feud that erupted in the tiny Calabrian town of San Luca in 1991.
"What happened was a qualitative leap" in the 'ndgrangheta's operations, Deputy Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said. "That this feud finds a second chapter outside the territory in which these clans move, and beyond the national borders," is unprecedented and worrisome.
The Interior Ministry said earlier this year that the 'ndrangheta had "confirmed itself as the most competitive criminal" movement in Italy and one that was able to exert the "most destructive potential" of all the other crime syndicates, more dangerous than Sicily's Cosa Nostra or the Neapolitan Camorra.
But to date, their vendettas have stayed local -- primarily because they have been able to carry them out with impunity in Calabria, said Alexander Stille, author of the 1995 book Excellent Cadavers, about the Sicilian Mafia.
"Generally it's a lot easier to get away with murder in Calabria than in Germany," he said in a telephone interview from New York. "When the 'ndrangheta kill people in Calabria, they do it in broad daylight in a crowded place and there are no witnesses."
The 'ndrangheta's business, however, went global years ago -- and Italian investigators said Wednesday's massacre may have been more about financial turf than a settling of local Italian scores.
"With the 'ndrangheta, the motives aren't only about honor but above all interests -- money laundering and drug trafficking," assistant police chief Nicola Cavaliere told RAI state television.
Minniti said the 'ndrangheta's presence in Germany was well known and that for some time German police and prosecutors had been monitoring its economic activity in Germany.
Stille said that many of the 'ndrangheta clans had started out as poor, rural extortion groups with a purely local range, which got rich suddenly in the 1980s and 1990s because they were able to divert government money destined for development projects like a new steel plant, port and power plant.
"These groups went from being small-time local hoods into being crime groups in the same category as the Sicilians and the Neapolitans, and so it's only inevitable that as they began to make more money and have more money to reinvest, they were going to look overseas," he said.
The San Luca feud erupted in 1991 after members of one of the clans threw eggs toward members of the other during Carnival celebrations, leading to a fight, said Luciano Rindona, police commissioner of Bovalino, which covers the town of San Luca.
Since then, some 15 people have been killed, including Wednesday's victims, he said.