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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Mafia gang suspects held in Italy
Italy's anti-Mafia prosecutor Pier Luigi Vigna
Pier Luigi Vigna said more arrests would follow
Police in Italy say they have detained 90 people suspected of involvement in a mafia gang and are hunting dozens more.

Three policemen are said to be among those arrested. The gang, based in the southern region of Puglia, is believed to be behind almost 20 killings.

The police were tipped off by the 25-year-old wife of a local hit man.

Italy's anti-Mafia prosecutor said the arrests came at a crucial time and he was grateful to the woman for breaking the Mafia's code of silence.

This is an organisation that has been characterised by extreme omerta,
Pier Luigi Vigna
Anti-mafia prosecutor

Pier Luigi Vigna told a media conference the rural clan had been evolving into a more sophisticated criminal organisation.

"This is an organisation that has been characterised by extreme omerta," he said, referring to the code.

"I am extremely grateful for this action...and have the impression that it is just the first and others will follow."


Major Domenico Bruscigno of the Bari Carabinieri police, which made the arrests, told AP news agency the so-called Gargano gang had been involved in drug trafficking, arms sales and extortion,

It was accused of killing 19 people over drugs and extortion in the last three years, he said.

"They were shot with rifles and automatic weapons, in a gangster style," Bruscigno said.

"They were brutally killed."

Police issued 123 arrest warrants and are continuing to search for 33 suspects.

Twenty of the warrants are for people accused in the killings with the remainder charged with membership in an organized-crime group.

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