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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Italy launches anti-mafia raids
Italian police
Police have arrested a number of mafia leaders this year
Italian paramilitary police have launched a major operation against one of the most violent organised crime groups in the country.

Italian media reports say 100 people were arrested in raids targeting groups from the south-western region of Calabria, known as the 'Ndrangheta.

The area has recently seen a spectacular rise in Mafia-related crime

Arrests are said to have taken place in Calabria, northern Lombardy, as well as around Rome and Naples.

The operation involved helicopters, dogs and hundreds of police officers. Further arrests are expected shortly.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the 'Ndrangheta had become "the most powerful and dangerous criminal organisation in Italy because of its viciousness", the AFP agency reported.

Those arrested so far will be questioned about crimes involving extortion, theft, international arms trafficking and corruption.

Drugs smuggling

The 'Ndrangheta, a rival to the Sicilian Mafia, specialises in drug trafficking from Colombia and other Latin American countries to Europe.

The arrests follow concerns the 'Ndrangheta were extending operations to the capital, and moving from drug smuggling to a wider range of activities.

National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pierluigi Vigna told Rai Radio 1 the operation was "the first answer to this infiltration".

In Calabria last year, there were 300 Mafia-related recorded attacks. Some involved threatening letters, others arson and violence.

There were 26 Mafia-related murders.

At least 80 towns and villages were affected, an increase from 30 in the previous year.

The group has also proved particularly difficult for the authorities to penetrate.

Italy has had an on-going battle against organised crime for decades, with mixed results at different times.

Police have arrested a number of suspected mafia leaders in recent months.

In August, they detained suspected 'Ndrangheta member Pasquale Tegano, wanted for a series of alleged crimes including murder and extortion and named on Italy's list of 30 most dangerous fugitives.

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06 Aug 04  |  Europe
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18 Feb 04  |  Europe
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04 May 04  |  Europe
Major drugs haul in Italian port
28 Jan 04  |  Europe
Naples Mafia 'target' detained
30 Mar 04  |  Europe

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