Police in Italy has arrested Matteo Messina Denaro, the most wanted mafia boss in the country, after evading an arrest for 30 years.
Mr Denaro was arrested on Monday morning at a private hospital in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, where he was being treated for an undisclosed illness. Footage shared on social media shows a team of policemen guiding the 60-year-old out of the hospital and the crowd applauding the men for a clean operation.
Matteo Messina was the leader of the Cosa Nostra mafia, which operated in Sicily and was responsible for the murder of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were anti-mafia prosecutors. In 1992, he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for the crimes but has since been on the run.
He was also responsible for several bomb attacks in Milan, Rome, and Florence in 1993, killing at least ten people. He also faces another life sentence for his involvement in the attacks. He is believed to be responsible for several murders around his hometown of Castelvetrano in the 1990s.
In his long list of crimes, Matteo, in 1993, kidnapped a 12-year-old boy. His reason for the act was to prevent the boy’s father from providing evidence against the mafia. After two years in captivity, the boy was strangled to death, after which his body was dissolved in acid.
“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,” Professor John Dickie, an expert on the Mafia, told Aljazeera.
“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.
Despite his disappearance from the public space, Denaro’s influence seems not to have been tampered with, as he continues to dictate how the mafia was run around Trapani. As of September last year, the Police said he was still issuing commands.
Reacting to the arrest, the Italian Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, described it as a “great victory for the state” and a demonstration the government will not give up in the fight against the mafia.
“My warmest thanks, together with those of the entire government, go to the police forces, and in particular to the Ros dei Carabinieri, to the national anti-mafia prosecutor and to the Palermo prosecutor for the capture of the most significant exponent of mafia crime,” Meloni stated.
Ms Meloni added that “the prevention and fight against mafia crime” will continue to be the priority of her government.
Professor John Dickie of the University College London, a professor of Italian studies and an expert on the mafia, said Denaro’s arrest was an indication that the Sicilian mafia was declining.
“[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,” Professor John Dickie stated.