Italy's most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro arrested in Sicily

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 Italy's most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro has been arrested in Sicily after 30 years on the run.

Italy's most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro arrested in Sicily

Messina Denaro was reportedly detained in a private clinic in Sicily's capital, Palermo, where he was receiving treatment for cancer.

He is alleged to be a boss of the notorious Cosa Nostra Mafia and he was tried and sentenced to life in jail in absentia in 2002 over numerous murders.

More than 100 members of the armed forces were involved in his arrest.

Italian media reported that Messina Denaro was captured just before 10:00 (09:00 GMT) and taken to a secret location by the Carabinieri. He was reportedly visiting the clinic under a fake name for a course of chemotherapy.

A video circulated by Italian media appears to show people standing in the street and applauding the Italian police as Messina Denaro is led away.

These are some of the murders he was convicted over:

  • the 1992 killing of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino,
  • the deadly 1993 bomb attacks in Milan, Florence and Rome
  • the kidnapping, torture and killing of the 11-year-old son of a mafioso-turned-state witness

Messina Denaro once boasted he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims.

The Mafia boss also oversaw racketeering, illegal waste dumping, money-laundering and drug-trafficking for the powerful Cosa Nostra organised crime syndicate.

He was reportedly the protege of Totò Riina, head of the Corleone clan, who was arrested in 1993 after 23 years on the run.

Clans nicknamed Messina Denaro "Diabolik" - the name of an uncatchable thief in a comic book series - and "U Siccu" (Skinny).

He is thought to be Cosa Nostra's last "secret-keeper". Many informers and prosecutors believe that he holds all the information and the names of those involved in several of the most high-profile crimes by the Mafia, including the bomb attacks that killed magistrates Falcone and Borsellino.

Although Messina Denaro had been a fugitive since 1993, he was thought to have still been issuing orders to his subordinates from various secret locations.

Over the decades, Italian investigators often came close to catching Messina Denaro by monitoring those closest to him.

This resulted in the arrest of his sister Patrizia and several other of his associates in 2013. Police also seized valuable businesses linked to Messina Denaro, leaving him increasingly isolated.

However, few photos of Messina Denaro existed and police had to rely on digital composites to reconstruct his appearance in the decades after he went on the run. A recording of his voice was not released until 2021.

In September 2021, a Formula 1 fan from Liverpool was arrested at gunpoint in a restaurant in the Netherlands after being mistaken for Messina Denaro.

Italians were glued to their screens on Monday morning when news of the arrest of the mafia boss broke.

For years, Messina Denaro had been a symbol of the state's inability to reach the upper echelons of the organised crime syndicates.

His arrest will be an unexpected sign of hope that the Mafia can be eradicated even in the southern regions of the country, where the state is perceived as largely absent and ineffective.

University of Essex criminology professor Anna Sergi told the BBC that Messina Denaro's arrest was "symbolic not just because he was the boss of Cosa Nostra, but because he represents the last fugitive the Italian state really wanted to get its hands on."

She said the reason people applauded in Palermo and the state felt "triumphant" was because the news felt like closure.

However, questions are likely to arise over the timing of the arrest.

Prof Sergi suggested it was still unclear how the morning raid on the clinic came about, who tipped the authorities off and crucially, how it was possible for Messina Denaro to "run around Sicily, presumably protected, for 30 years".

Messina Denaro was being treated for cancer so was "quite sick", the professor said, adding people were speculating that someone in the crime world had decided he was no longer useful.

"This means he was likely still part of structure where there is an exchange of favours between the Mafia and state, and where one can be given up in return for something," she explained.

But at a press conference on Monday afternoon the Carabinieri appeared to deny that they had received a tip-off on the whereabouts of Messina Denaro and emphasised the hard work of investigators who tracked the mafia boss down in a "painstaking and extremely delicate" operation.

The authorities said Messina Denaro did not attempt to run when he realised the operation was taking place, and that he admitted to being the man the Carabinieri were searching for as soon as they approached him.

They also said that the fugitive was "looking well, well dressed and wearing high-end clothing": "We certainly did not find a destroyed man… we found a well-groomed man in a good economic condition."

General Pasquale Angelosanto of the ROS special force unit of the Carabinieri added that Messina Denaro was wearing a Rolex watch worth 35,000 euros ($37,880, £31,067) when officers detained him.

"Obviously the mafia has not been defeated, and it would be a mistake to think it so," said the Palermo prosecutor general Maurizio De Lucia.

De Lucia also told reporters that Messina Denaro spent the last three decades hiding out in many parts of Italy, most recently in Sicily.

After the arrest, tributes to the work of the armed forces poured in from across the political spectrum.

Gian Carlo Caselli, a judge and former prosecutor general, said that the arrest of Messina Denaro was an "exceptional... simply historical event" that might lead to significant developments in the ongoing inquiries into the 1993 bomb attacks that killed 10 people across Italy.

Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti was killed by Cosa Nostra in 1980, congratulated the minister of the interior and the carabinieri military police.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni travelled to Sicily today and visited the memorial to Giuseppe Falcone and the other victims of the 1992 bombing near Palermo, where she observed a minute's silence.

Ms Meloni also thanked the armed forces for their work in detaining the "most important member of the mafia criminal group", adding: "This is a great victory for the state."

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