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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 15:06 GMT
The challenge of breaking the Mafia
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Italian police have arrested a man believed to the boss of the Sicilian Mafia, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, but the long war between the Italian state and the Mafia is far from over.

The arrest of Salvatore Lo Piccolo
Lo Piccolo was believed to have taken over as the Mafia's new boss
With his son Sandro - who was also arrested - 65-year-old Lo Piccolo has been a major power-broker in Sicily despite having been on the run for nearly 25 years.

Nicknamed The Baron, he is believed by magistrates to have taken over from Bernardo Provenzano, who was the undisputed head of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra from 1995 until his arrest in 2006.

Provenzano had run the Corleone Mafia, which gained supremacy in the 1980s. It hailed from the town of the same name in central Sicily, immortalised as the birthplace of the Marlon Brando character in the film The Godfather.

Sicily's regional governor, Salvatore Cuffaro, said he hoped Monday's arrest of Lo Piccolo would be "a mortal, definitive blow to Cosa Nostra".

But, Leoluca Orlando, the former mayor of Palermo renowned for fighting the Mafia, warned against making the mistake of thinking that the arrests would bring an end to the Mafia in Sicily.

American connection

"This is an important arrest," the MP told the BBC News website. "Since the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano, the boss of the so-called Corleonesi Mafia, Salvatore Lo Piccolo was considered to be the new boss of the Corleonesi group."

Lo Piccolo began his crime career as a bodyguard for a Sicilian Mafia boss
He is believed to have taken over after Provenzano's arrest in 2000
Magistrates believe he fought for the leadership with Matteo Messina Denaro
Lo Piccolo has been on the run since 1983
But, he said, the fight against the Mafia was far from over, as the imprisonment of Provenzano had also provided opportunities for other criminal groups to muscle in.

He said investigators would need to focus on the so-called "Americans" who he described as the new Mafia bosses in Sicily.

There have been fears that members of Sicilian families, who were forced to flee the island in the 1980s after losing the power struggle with the Corleone gang, were being brought back from the US to fill the void left by the arrests of Provenzano and many of his lieutenants.

"After the arrest of Provenzano, the Corleonesi Mafia lost its hegemony among the Sicilian Mafia," said Mr Orlando.

In August, police arrested 14 people in an operation which uncovered close ties between local Cosa Nostra families and the US-based Mafia.

They included local bosses, businessmen, extortionists and municipal employees.

The arrest of Provenzano
Provenzano was caught after 43 years on the run
"Now we have to fight both the Mafias," says Mr Orlando. "And we need to cut the connections between the old and new Mafia and politicians. We will not be able to say we have won the battle against organised crime until then."

Professor James Walston, a writer on the Italian Mafia from the American University in Rome, says the US connection harks back to the days when the gangs were running drugs through Sicily to the US.

According to investigators, the trans-Atlantic alliance uncovered in August involved drug trafficking and money laundering.

For many years, the Sicilian mafia's core criminal activity has concentrated largely on protection rackets and the construction business.

Mr Orlando said the "Americans" would no doubt view the arrest of Lo Piccolo as an opportunity to try to seize greater control.

New boss?

Monday's arrest could clear the way for Matteo Messina Denaro, known as The Playboy boss, to take over from Lo Piccolo.

The town of Corleone
The town of Corleone has never escaped the shadow of the mafia
Denaro, 47, whose power base is in the town of Trapani not far from Palermo, was considered a possible rival to Lo Piccolo after the arrest of Provenzano. He is still on the run.

Lo Piccolo was arrested after almost quarter of a century on the run. According to reports, he and the other bosses were tracked to a country house outside Palermo where they were holding a summit.

"These guys would not have been picked up by chance," says Professor Walston.

"Informers are most likely to have been involved and this could indicate some sort of division."

Asked whether the arrests could spell the decline of the Mafia, he said: "They will make life difficult for certain groups, it puts someone in a weaker position."

"But," he continued, "the Mafia never dies."

Mafia men get 300 years in jail
16 Nov 06 |  Europe
Profile: Bernardo Provenzano
11 Apr 06 |  Europe

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