90 arrested in Italian raids
ROME - Italian police staged sweeping raids yesterday to arrest about 90 suspected mobsters and prevent the hobbled Sicilian Mafia from forming a new command structure and strategy, authorities said.
The blitz ordered by Palermo prosecutors was one of the largest in recent years and was billed as striking at the heart of the nascent hierarchy. It prevented possible bloodshed among bosses competing for control in a new ruling commission, police said.
"The operation has thrown the Mafia into a very serious crisis," said Francesco Messineo, the chief prosecutor in Palermo who ordered the arrests.
The Sicilian Mafia has been trying to overcome disarray in its ranks ever since top mobster Bernardo Provenzano was arrested in April 2006. Many of his encrypted notes were cracked, shedding light on Cosa Nostra's organization and leading to the arrests of some of his closest aides.
"If that operation . . . brought Cosa Nostra down to its knees, this prevented it from getting up again," said the national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pietro Grasso.
Yesterday's operation - called Perseus, after the Greek mythological hero who beheaded Medusa - "severed all the strategically important heads of a new ruling structure that had to deliberate, as it once did, on all serious acts," Grasso said.
The arrests targeted suspected bosses of local crime families and rank-and-file mobsters intent on setting up the commission, which was to make Cosa Nostra's important decisions including possible attacks, police said.
Some suspects remained at large.
The commission, known as the "cupola," was famously headed by Salvatore "Toto" Riina, the boss of bosses, until his arrest in 1993.
Under Riina's command, the commission adopted a strategy of all-out attack against the state that culminated with the back-to-back slayings of top anti-Mafia fighters Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992.
Provenzano, who took over from Riina, pursued a less bloody strategy and focused on the Mafia's traditional illegal activities, such as infiltrating public projects or extortion from local businesses.