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Mafia strike under nose of paratroopers

October 15, 2008

by Guy Dinmore, reporting from Naples and Reggio Calabria – Published: October 15 2008

Even Italy’s crack Folgore paratroopers could not save 60-year-old Stanislao Cantelli from the Mafia.

Two days after Silvio Berlusconi, centre-right prime minister, sent 500 troops to reinforce police in the Naples area after a spate of killings, the Mafia delivered their blunt response.

Mr Cantelli was playing cards in a social club on the high street of Casal di Principe – a satellite town and stronghold of the Camorra gangs – when someone walked in and fired 18 bullets. Paratroopers were 200 metres away. By the time the police arrived, the killer and all witnesses had fled. Shops were closing their shutters.

Police say Mr Cantelli, a retired cheese factory worker, paid the price for being the uncle of Luigi Diana, a Mafia “pentito” or turncoat whose information had led to the arrest of members of the Casalesi clan.

Two weeks earlier, suspected Casalesi hitmen shot six African immigrants in Castelvolturno, a derelict zone north of Naples trying to reinvent itself with a coastal golf course.

A turf war over narcotics or golf, or simply a cocaine-driven demonstration of power by the mob? Police are not sure. Frightened immigrants protested, accusing the state of abandoning them and Italians of racism.

The government’s decision to deploy the army has been cautiously welcomed by Italians as a sign that the state is trying to impose an authority that has been absent for years. Critics say it is just for show.

Meanwhile, the ministers of interior and defence disagree on the nature of the battle. After Mr Cantelli’s murder, Roberto Maroni, the interior minister who believes he is waging a “civil war”, said he had never expected “a bed of roses” and victory within hours. “But I am sure we can do it and the people of Campania (the region around Naples) will learn to trust the state,” he said on television.

Ignazio La Russa, the defence minister prefers the terminology of a war between gangs, but he agrees on the target. “The only war we are waging is against the Camorra,” he said. An editor of a local newspaper who asked not to be named said the government had been obliged to be seen responding to the violence, but he doubted the move would would tackle its roots which is the nexus of power between local politicians and the mob.

“This war is win-win for Berlusconi,” he said. Some local politicians “up to their necks” in the Mafia might be sacrificed but they would be replaced. Further south in Calabria, Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor, was involved in co-ordinated raids last month against drug traffickers in Italy, the US, Mexico and Guatemala.

More than 16 tonnes of cocaine were seized and 200 people held, including 16 suspected members of the ‘Ndrangheta Mafia clans based in Calabria who control the flow of Colombian cocaine into Europe.

Mr Gratteri said Colombian drug lords were outsourcing their distribution to Mexican gangs to feed the US and European markets, where in turn the ‘Ndrangheta supply the Camorra around Naples.

Organised as an impenetrable, cell-like structure of families, the ‘Ndrangheta have grown into Europe’s most powerful criminal network, controlling businesses and politicians and influencing local elections.

Apart from the occasional vendetta exploding into public, the ‘Ndrangheta tend to keep a lower profile than the Camorra and avoid direct confrontation with the state.

Sending in the army is not an effective tool, says Mr Gratteri. “Checkpoints are not the answer. It doesn’t matter whether it is the Carabinieri police or the army.” To make his point, he shows where a bug was found in a store-room next to the guarded office where he and colleagues used to have what they thought were confidential conversations.

“The Mafia are different. They organise themselves, create their rules and also have a consensus among part of the population. Checkpoints have a good psychological effect but they do not give results.”

His biggest weapon is telephone intercepts. They are cheap and simple. He says the city has one of the most effective monitoring systems in the world, tapping more than 1,000 people.

“Investigations are the answer but to carry them out you need time, months, years,” he says. “So it is important to raise the number of people employed.

“Contrary to checkpoints, to fight against the Mafia one must camouflage oneself, forget to exist, disappear . . not with cameras and journalists who follow you around.”

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