Little Known, Italy’s “Fourth Mafia” Yet Most Violent

For this farmer from Puglia in southern Italy, a loaded gun to Lazzaro D’Orea’s head finally satisfied the mafia’s demands.

She has resisted several extortion attempts in the past, resulting in threats and damage to her properties and crops, but it is an early morning visit by a dozen men to her tomato fields, including an armed chief, that finally convinces her. Lia agrees to pay him 150,000 Euros per year.

The next day, instead of complying and paying, he went to the police, becoming one of the few victims to file a complaint against the Foggia city mafia, a criminal organization long shrouded in shadow but which currently dominates the peninsula. But the most violent.

“If more local people get involved, the local mafia can be weakened. For 40 years, the Foggia mafia has gone about its business unscathed, but in the last six to seven years, it has suffered , ” tells AFP Lazzaro D’Orea, who has been living under police protection since 2017.

“Residents of Foggia, file a complaint!” The 57-year-old entrepreneur sees the recent police raids as a sign that the mafia can be fought if residents get over their fears.

The youngest Italian mafiosi had already taken control of the great province of Foggia: drug trafficking, armed robbery, car theft and extortion.

“It is a rudimentary, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive”, analyzes Ludovico Vaccaro, the prosecutor of Foggia.

While the main mafias have moved from violent methods of action to less visible and more profitable activities, including the legal economy, the Foggia mafia is still in its first stages.

– “Battalions are killing each other” –

“Today, the mafia has evolved, they fire fewer shots, they seek more discreet tactics to go unnoticed,” says Mr. Vaccaro. “While this mafia shoots and kills to hold onto its territory”.

The name “Mafia of Foggia” is a catch-all formula that brings together different groups involved in several criminal sectors.

Foggia province, which extends from the province of Gargano overlooking the Adriatic to agricultural plains inland, has the third highest homicide rate with five of the 16 murders committed last year linked to the Mafia.

The “battalions”, formed on the basis of family ties, each controlled a geographic area, often cooperating with each other and sharing the proceeds of their extortion to pay off their members and those of them who were in prison. support them.

“When conflicts arise over the division of these illegal profits (…) the battalions clash and kill each other,” explains Foggia police officer Mario Gracia.

Each group has its own specialty, from the armed robbery of cargo trucks in the Cerignola region to the bombing of storefronts or vehicles to persuade their hesitant owners to checkout in the city of Foggia.

In the San Severo region, farmers like Mr. D’Orea often find their olive trees cut down, their crops burned or their livestock stolen.

On the shores of Gargano, where both tourists and drug shipments from Albania arrive, the mafia is particularly violent.

Four years earlier, a human skull had been left in front of a municipal building to send a message to the mayor of Monte Sant’Angelo. A goat’s head pierced with a skewer was addressed to the lawyer of the mother of a missing mob victim the same year.

According to investigators, the mafia in Gargano is known for firing bullets into the faces of its victims, but also for leaving corpses in underground caves.

– “Nobody spoke” –

During a patrol with the Foggia police, AFP was able to see traces of several bloody crimes that terrorized the population over the years.

The site where construction entrepreneur Giovanni Panunzio was shot dead in 1992 for being the first to publicly denounce the Mafia, the abandoned farm where police foiled an attack on a businessman in 2022, or here Until the cafe whose owner was stabbed to death in the eye during a burglary in 2020. But there are many other places like this.

“At present, there is no mafia war, but the accounts are being settled,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

In November, 21-year-old Nicola Di Rienzo was shot five times in a public park. Her 17-year-old killer surrendered to police a few hours later, but in the meantime “nobody spoke, nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything”, he said.

Police officer Mario Gracia is particularly concerned that three murders in 2022 were committed by minors in the context of rising juvenile delinquency.

“Those who are part of these juvenile gangs have family ties with people associated with organized crime,” he said.

Another point of concern: the infiltration of the mafia into public institutions. Foggia’s city council was dissolved in 2021 for Mafia infiltration and its mayor was arrested on corruption charges. Four other municipal councils in the province have been dissolved since 2015.

– atmosphere of fear –

In recent years, several bosses have been imprisoned as part of the authorities’ efforts to wrest control of the area from the Mafia, but there is still much work to be done.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi went to Foggia in February to reassure the population, promising to strengthen security, notably through the installation of remote surveillance cameras.

But more police, judges and courts are also needed to fight against “an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and socio-cultural poverty”, according to prosecutors.

There is only one court in the province, where 12,000 criminal cases are being heard. “In this vast territory, either the state controls the situation, or it is the criminals who will do it,” warns Mr. Vaccaro.

Last summer, Mr. D’Auria’s grain fields caught fire, as did three of his tractors. Worse, according to him, his bank has cut his credit line in half because he is considered a “high risk” customer.

However, he would like to see a ray of hope in the recent arrests and convictions, which show that the state is finally mobilizing against this mafia. “I feel safer than ever, but the fear is still there,” he says.

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