Italian Mafia boss arrested in fortified bunker

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 07, 2011 1:09 PM
Italian Mafia boss arrested in fortified bunker

By Laura Viggiano

NAPLES (Reuters) - Mafia boss Michele Zagaria, one of Italy's most wanted men, was captured on Wednesday after police drilled into a concrete underground bunker where the man known as "Twisted Head" was hiding.

Zagaria, who had been on the run for 16 years, was head of the Casalesi clan of the Camorra that controlled a swathe of territory north of Naples. The clan inspired Roberto Saviano's best-selling book "Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia," which was made into a violent, prize-winning movie.

The 53-year-old, sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for murder in 2008, was captured in his home town of Casapesenna, police said.

Zagaria's bunker was about 50 square meters (540 sq feet) in size and hidden behind a 5-metre (16 feet) thick wall of reinforced concrete that opened and closed electronically.

Police cut off electricity and air to the bunker, and then drilled through the wall, according to police sources. The bunker was decorated with crucifixes and sacred images, and it was clear that he had lived there for years, they said.

The mug shot distributed on Wednesday showed an ageing, grey-haired man, startlingly different from the picture of a tough-looking, dark-haired Zagaria that had been posted on the Interior Ministry's page of Italy's Most Wanted.

"This is a great day, but the battle against these criminal entrepreneurs is far from over," Saviano told Ansa news agency. Saviano today lives under police protection because Zagaria wanted him dead.

The Casalesi, unlike the fragmented Camorra clans within the city of Naples, had consolidated control over a large geographic area. It used proceeds from drug trafficking and extortion to invest in a range of legitimate investments at home and abroad, from trash collection to construction.

Zagaria, nicknamed capastorta or "Twisted Head" in a reference to his brutality, had ruled the clan alongside Antonio Iovine, who was arrested last year.

Raffaele Cantone, a former Naples magistrate who has lived under police protection since 2003 when it was learned that the Casalesi clan had ordered his assassination, compared the arrest to that of the Sicilian Mafia's "boss of bosses" Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.

"With Zagaria's arrest, the Casalesi clan as we've known it ceases to exist, and we'll have to see what form it will take now," Cantone told Reuters. "It's the end of an epoch."

Prime Minister Mario Monti hailed the arrest as a "great day" for all "honest people." Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri said it was "a huge success ... not only against the Casalesi clan but against the entire Camorra organization."

Zagaria will be transferred as early as Wednesday to a high-security prison near Novara in northern Italy, where he will be isolated in his own cell and monitored 24 hours a day, Ansa reported.

A Naples court on Tuesday asked parliament to allow the arrest of lawmaker Nicola Cosentino, a former Treasury undersecretary in Silvio Berlusconi's government, for having been the "national political go-between for the Casalesi clan," according to an arrest order seen by Reuters.

Cosentino denies all charges.

(Additional reporting and writing By Steve Scherer; editing by Barry Moody)