’Ndrangheta wars militarize southern Italy

300 police backed up by helicopters beseiging a small rural town? Starting to look like counterinsurgency in Calabria. From the New York Times, Aug. 31:

Fears of Mob Feud Lead to Arrest of 32 in Italy
ROME — The Italian police carried out a major raid on Thursday, arresting 32 people, in part to stop a deadly feud between warring crime families. The arrests were linked to the fatal shooting of six men outside a pizzeria in Germany this month.

Among those arrested were three people hiding in a secret bunker under a floor in their house in the southern town of San Luca, where the two families are based.

“These people were using the bunker to hide, not just from the police, but they were afraid that they might be killed in the feud,” said Renato Cortese, a top police official in Reggio Calabria, the southern region where most of the arrests took place.

Mr. Cortese said the arrests were a result of a long-running investigation into the ‘Ndrangheta crime group, based in Calabria and often considered more active and powerful than the Sicilian Mafia. He said, however, that fears of increased mob violence forced them to make the arrests sooner than anticipated, after six men in the Pelle-Romano clan, a crime family within the ‘Ndrangheta group, were gunned down in Duisburg, Germany, on Aug. 15.

Investigators say that the deaths appeared to have been in revenge for the shooting death last Christmas of the wife of Giovanni Nirta, the suspected leader of another ‘Ndrangheta family, the Strangio-Nirta clan. The two groups have been feuding on and off since 1991 after an egg-throwing incident, though investigators stress that the tension has also been fueled by competition for criminal business, including drugs, arms trade and extortion.

“It’s a strong and necessary response to break up the mob feuding between opposing ‘Ndrangheta clans, which has already provoked so much terror,” Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said of the arrests.

About 300 police officers, supported by helicopters, stormed San Luca, a town of less than 5,000 people, early on Thursday. Mr. Cortese said the warrants — 44 in all — were roughly evenly split between the families.

Among those arrested was Mr. Nirta, as well as two brothers of victims in the Germany slaying. At least four of those arrested are women. Two suspects were arrested in the city of Latina, south of Rome.

Mr. Cortese said that among those still being sought were top leaders of both families. While German investigators traveled to Italy and conferred during the operation, the police said that the raid was not aimed specifically at the gunmen in the killing outside the pizzeria and that they were not believed to have been caught yet.

See our last post on Italy’s crime wars.

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