Italian police have arrested a 42-year-old woman suspected of being the `godmother' of one of Italy's most important mafia clans. She is believed to be a key figure in the Sacra Corona Unita (United Holy Wreath), the mafia of the south-eastern Apulian region. The Italian interior ministry says the involvement of women in organised crime is continuing to rise, as Orla Guerin reports from Rome.
Traditionally organised crime in Italy has been a men-only club - but not any more. The authorities say these days a growing number of sisters and wives are stepping in when mafia men are jailed.
According to police in the Adriatic port of Brindisi, the woman they have arrested is typical of these female mafiosi.
They believe Maria Rasaria Buccarella is `godmother' of one of the clans of the Sacra Corona Unita, the organised crime syndicate which came to the fore in the Apulia region in the late 1970s.
Police say she took over the clan following the capture of her brother. She was arrested, after a hunt lasting four months, with three other women also suspected of belonging to the organisation.
Last July police arrested a 43-year-old woman believed to be leading one of the most dangerous clans in the Sicilian mafia, the Cosa Nostra.
According to investigators she took charge when her husband was jailed.
Experts say in recent years the growing independence of Sicilian women has enabled them to carve out a bigger role inside the Cosa Nostra.
In the past only men were allowed to take the blood oath which marked admission to the organisation.
There is concern here about the growing involvement of women in organised crime.
According to a report from the Italian interior ministry women in mafia families are now frequently called upon to guide clans after the killing or imprisonment of their men.