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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 17:39 GMT
Hunt for elusive Naples mafiosi
By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Naples, Italy

Italian police in anti-mafia raid in a Naples suburb
Naples police: Combating a paramilitary-style organisation
Without flashing lights or wailing sirens, 30 police cars speed out of Naples city centre towards the grimy suburb of Scampia.

Another covert drugs blitz on a known Mafia stronghold.

But not covert enough.

"Damn! They're getting away already!" yells the police chief into his walkie-talkie.

The squad cars skid to a halt, encircling a crumbling grey tower block flecked with washing lines and satellite dishes.

Mafia look-outs, clearly visible on balconies and rooftops, already spotted the column of police cars arriving.

Now the screech of rapidly departing tyres confirms the efficiency of their early warning system.

Fifty armed officers scurry into the block.

"I want a door to door search. Every flat, every family!" bellows the order behind them.

Concrete jungle

Police estimate that eight out of 10 families living in this building alone are connected with the Neapolitan Mafia known as the Camorra, and more than 150,000 euros (104,000; $195,000) of drug money is sucked into these apartments every week.

A tower block in Scampia, a Naples suburb in southern Italy.
Here we're waging a tough battle against the soldiers, not the generals
Italian detective

Consider that this is just one building in a vast concrete jungle of tower blocks and the scale of the police task appears formidable.

Despite several high-profile arrests of big Mafia bosses, the situation on the ground here is critical.

Last year there were 140 shootings, forcing the Italian government to send hundreds of extra police to Naples.

This year the bloody vendetta between rival gangs continues unabated.

There is at least one killing every 48 hours as a bitter turf war rages for control of the drug market worth 16bn euros.

"These are not your cinema stereotypes of Mafia," says one detective, peering into the stairwell littered with bottles and hastily discarded needles.

Clan warfare

"They are common people dedicated to crime. Here we're waging a tough battle against the soldiers, not the generals," she says.

"We know who they are, but it's not enough."

This is a tough job for the police because they are up against a paramilitary-style organisation.

Officers cannot enter some hallways until firefighters have sawn through bullet-proof security doors that the mafia have installed.

Sparks fill the corridors and the rasp of mechanical cutters echoes through the stairwells.

"The Camorra haven't built these doors because they are afraid of the police," shouts the detective above the din. "They have built them so they can control who comes here. They are afraid of other clans."

Looking up at the outside of the tower block, every balcony and window is also sealed with heavy iron shutters, incongruously shiny and new against the shabby concrete facade.

The Mafia have installed their own CCTV and organise routine roadblocks and security searches on the main roads nearby.

"The Camorra is like a state within the state," says Amato Lamberti, sociologist and director of the Camorra Observatory, which monitors Mafia activities.

Cocaine trade

"They have their own sets of rules, their own code of conduct, their own intelligence and security forces.

"It is very hard for the police to intervene in this.

"This current warfare will only end when these gangs have killed everyone they want to kill."

"Why are they wasting their time again?" says Giovanna, an exasperated 34-year-old mother returning from the supermarket and unable to get to her flat because of the frenzied police search.

Firemen slice a metal door used as a barricade in a Naples suburb.
Even firemen are involved in fighting crime in the suburbs

"Everyone knows that the Camorra is stronger than the police."

Whilst a police helicopter hovers low over the top of the tower block looking for criminals who have built hideouts, three suspected drug dealers are marched out of the building and into waiting police vans.

A gaggle of women in slippers and pyjamas follow, and stand around smoking. They look resigned, even bored.

Then two young men carrying a sports bag are spotted leaving a side door.

The police give chase, and throw them to the ground.

A search of the black holdall reveals several small packages.

Not Mafia dealers, but young architects who have come here to buy cocaine. The police reluctantly let them go.

"Last year we arrested 12,000 people here in Naples," says Naples police chief Vittorio Pisani, walking around the newly refurbished control room at Naples police station.

Economic phenomenon

Every trouble spot around the city is shown real-time on giant screens.

Squad cars arrive at crime scenes in minutes.

"The problem is that we're not even close to beating the Camorra," he says.

"The real problem is that for every mafioso arrested, there are hundreds more to take their place, because this is a social and economic phenomenon."

"I have a friend: he's 16 and they pay him 600 euros a week just to be a look-out," says Giulia, a 13-year-old living in a neighbouring tower block.

"I guess he might deal a bit too, but only because there's nothing else to do here, no jobs, nothing," she says.

At the site of the police blitz the fire brigade have found a second layer of Mafia security to tackle.

A heavy armoured door has been fitted with peep holes and a rotating letter box to allow exchanges of drugs and money without the risk of being shot.

The door is cut from its hinges.

"They'll build a new one in a matter of days," shrugs an officer. "But what else can we do?"

Mafia turf war grips Naples
24 Nov 04 |  Europe
Law students take on the Mafia
06 Nov 04 |  Europe

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