He is the boss of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and he was the most wanted criminal in Italy: Matteo Messina Denaro. After three decades on the run, special forces arrested the mafioso in a private clinic in Palermo, as the carabinieri announced on Monday morning. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni spoke of a "great success for the state, which shows that the mafia has never been defeated". Her Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi called the arrest "historic".
Messina Denaro, now 60, has been on the run since 1993. He is said to have committed or organized dozens of murders. Among them were the deadly 1992 bombings of mafia hunters Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. These had shocked Italy and led to a new offensive against organized crime.
Messina Denaro was considered a confidant and then successor to former Cosa Nostra bosses Salvatore "Totò" Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. Riina was called the boss of bosses in Sicily, he was extremely brutal and ruthless. He was arrested on January 15, 2013, almost 30 years to the day before Messina Denaro. Riina and Provenzano died in prison in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Messina Denaro was considered the last fugitive top Mafioso from that time.
In the past few decades, various anti-mafia agents from the carabinieri and the police have been looking for the mafioso. In countless raids on Sicily, however, he was repeatedly missed. In 2015, the investigators discovered, among other things, that Denaro, who was born near Trapani in western Sicily, did without modern means of communication in order not to leave any traces. Instead, he used the age-old mafia method of "pizzini" - encoded messages on a small piece of paper - to instruct his henchmen.
By order of the public prosecutors Maurizio de Lucia and Paolo Guido, the access to the private clinic "La Maddalena" in Palermo took place. Messina Denaro stayed there "to get treatment," as Pasquale Angelosanto, head of the Carabinieri's special command, said. He is said to have had a tumor, the newspaper "Corriere della Sera" reported. The arrested man was first taken to a military barracks and was scheduled to be flown out of Palermo to be taken to a maximum security prison.
In the morning, mobile phone videos were circulating on the Internet, which are said to show the arrest of the criminal or the moments afterwards. They show people applauding in Palermo. In a first photo from a car distributed by the Carabinieri, Messina Denaro can be seen next to two police officers. He is wearing a light colored hat and sunglasses. It is the man's first official picture since the early 1990s. So far, the law enforcement officers have only had phantom drawings or images available for the search, with which computers have calculated what the aged man might look like today.
Politicians from all parties reacted with relief and praise to Messina Denaro's arrest. President Sergio Mattarella - whose brother Piersanti, as regional president of Sicily, was killed by the mafia in 1980 - phoned the interior minister and the Carabinieri commander to congratulate them.
Opposition leader Enrico Letta of the Social Democrats tweeted: "In the end, the mafia always loses. That is the central message of this historic January 16." Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of a "celebration for the whole country".