Matteo Messina Denaro: Italian mafia boss arrested in Sicily

Matteo Messina Denaro, a leader within Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia, has been linked to a string of murders.

Matteo Messina Denaro was detained at a private medical clinic in the Sicilian capital Palermo [Carabinieri/Handout via Reuters]

Italian police have arrested the country’s most wanted mafia boss, who had been on the run for 30 years.

Prosecutors say Matteo Messina Denaro is a boss of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia.

Police on Monday morning swooped in on a private hospital in the Sicilian capital Palermo, where the 60-year-old was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, to make the arrest.

Messina Denaro has been sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

He also faces a life sentence for his involvement in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan the following year, which killed 10 people.

Messina Denaro, who comes from the small southern town of Castelvetrano near Trapani, is accused by prosecutors of being solely or jointly responsible for several other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993, he helped organise the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

Matteo Messina Denaro
Messina Denaro faces multiple life sentences in prison [Handout/ANSA via AFP]

Police said in September last year that he was still able to issue commands relating to the way the mafia was run in the area around the western Sicilian city of Trapani, his regional stronghold, despite his long disappearance.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni welcomed his arrest as a “great victory for the state”.

“The prevention [of] and fight against mafia crime … will continue to be an absolute priority of this government,” Meloni said in a post on Twitter.

The arrest Monday came 30 years and a day after the capture of convicted “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina, in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run.

John Dickie, a professor of Italian studies at University College London and an expert on the mafia, described Messina Denaro’s capture as “another signal of the decline of the Sicilian mafia”.

“He was the youngest member of a leadership group within the Sicilian mafia that took control of the Sicilian mafia in the early 1980s, essentially by massacring all their rivals, and then mounted a major attack on the Italian state,” Dickie told Al Jazeera from London.

“All of this was aimed at trying to get the state to back down from a major onslaught against organised crime that had been gaining momentum … [but] that onslaught has continued and Messina Denaro was the last of that leadership group still at large,” he added.

“[His arrest] is a very important symbolic gesture which shows that ultimately the state will win, and the state is winning in the case of the Sicilian mafia.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies