PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police arrested six members of Sicily's Cosa Nostra mafia on Friday as part of an inquiry that an investigative source said uncovered a threat of violence against Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.
Military police said in a statement they made the arrests in a dawn raid in Corleone, one of the criminal group's strongholds, after an investigation which helped them prevent a murder.
The statement did not mention Alfano but the source said police wiretaps recorded mafia members talking on the telephone about an attack on the Sicily-born minister.
"If it's all agreed, we'll hit him, right in the head," one gang member is recorded saying, the source told Reuters.
The grudge against Alfano appears to stem from his readiness to toughen jail sentences for people convicted of mafia association, the source said.
The "41 bis" regime suspends certain rules on how to treat prisoners, including subjecting them to near-total isolation.
Asked by reporters in Brussels to comment on the matter, Alfano said: "We'll talk about that later."
Parliamentarians sent messages of support, including Defence Ministry Undersecretary Gioacchino Alfano.
"Threats don't frighten people like Angelino Alfano, who have always stood firm against organized crime. We are all with Alfano against all mafia," he said in a statement.
Cosa Nostra, or "Our Thing", was Italy's most powerful mafia group in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was led by Corleone-born bosses Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, but it has been overtaken by the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta.
At its most powerful, Cosa Nostra killed several public figures, including a Sicilian politician and brother of Italy's president, Piersanti Mattarella, as well as high-profile anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
(Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Giselda Vagnoni and Louise Ireland)