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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 13:51 GMT
Mafia turf war grips Naples

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Naples

Charred wreckage of a recent victim of Naples' mafia power struggle
Six people have been killed in 24 hours in the mafia violence
Vito Faenza hangs up his coat in Corriere del Mezzogiorno's newsroom. He looks at his watch, stroking his moustache.

"They've shot another one this lunchtime. That means a revenge killing by about seven o'clock tonight.

"I should be out of here by 9pm," he calculates, with the brisk shrug of a man who has reported over 2,000 mafia murders during his 28-year career.

Sure enough, just before 7pm, sirens scream through the narrow streets. The corpse of a 54-year-old man is found on a busy pedestrian road.

He was shot just round the corner from the new city council buildings.

There have been 115 violent killings like this since the start of the year - and last week, six in 48 hours.

"I've never felt safe here, but I never expected this," says Mimmo, who runs his family's restaurant.

Until recently, this yellow-fronted pizzeria near Naples' central station was well known to locals for the wide variety of toppings and its crunchy crust.

Family clans

That was until it became the scene for another gangster shoot-out.

Now there are lots of smaller gangs, all with trigger-happy bosses fighting for the same source of power and money - it's definitely more volatile
Vito Faenza, Neapolitan journalist

"A man burst in here last week and shot a client sitting right at that table right there," Mimmo says, preferring not look at the exact spot where the victim sat slumped forward into his pizza.

"Thank God the restaurant wasn't full."

The relative safety of Naples' historic centre, with its quaint Christmas markets and art exhibitions, is now threatened by the escalation of a bitter mafia turf war dominating the impoverished suburbs.

Rival Neapolitan family clans known as the Camorra are fighting tooth-and-nail for control of the drugs market.

Organised crime has been a feature of life in Naples for decades, but now there are faint echoes of the 1980s mob violence which killed 700 people before calm returned.

Police officer at the scene of pizzeria shooting in Naples
The mafia has fragmented into numerous violent clans
"The difference now is that we don't have two big established bosses controlling the whole city and all its different aspects, as was the case 20 years ago," says Mr Faenza.

"But even though there have been arrests, the situation is not necessarily better.

"Now there are lots of smaller gangs, all with trigger-happy bosses fighting for the same source of power and money - it's definitely more volatile.

"I think people underestimated their strength."

Under increasing pressure to reduce the violence, Italy's interior minister has sent 325 extra armed police officers to try and regain control of the city.

It is a welcome gesture for Naples' own security forces.


"The last 10 days have been unbelievably tough for us," Naples' police chief Vittorio Pisani told BBC News.

"But the recipe to fight this organised crime is much more complex than just increasing police presence and giving tougher sentences."

Antonio Bassolino, president of Naples province, agrees.

"It's all very well sending a few more police, but we need much, much more here," he says.

"The government needs to commit serious financial resources. It's the only way to earn the trust of citizens who have nothing."

It is clear there are few opportunities for the thousands who live in Naples' grim suburbs of crumbling tenement blocks.

Used syringes lie among heaps of rubbish. Dealers do business openly outside schools and churches.

Areas like Scampia and Secondigliano have earned the reputation as Europe's biggest drug stores, governed by the warring criminal clans.

With more than 50% unemployment in these zones, they find no shortage of young people to recruit.

The spiral of criminality is also nurtured by a culture of fear and silence called "omerta".

It is something the authorities in Naples are trying to break.

"I'm trying to encourage people to stand up against the criminals, to collaborate and not to be victims," says Father Luigi Merola, at a service for a teenage girl killed in gangster crossfire.

His stance has earned him death threats, 24-hour police protection and international media curiosity.

His parishioners, many of whom prefer simply to stay indoors during these difficult days, may take a lot of convincing.

Naples Mafia 'target' detained
30 Mar 04 |  Europe


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