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Italian, U.S. police make arrests as Mafia clan looks to regroup

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PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) – Italian and U.S. police have launched a coordinated crackdown against major crime families who were looking to rebuild their Mafia powerbase in Sicily, Italian investigators said on Wednesday.

More than 200 police, including officers from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have been carrying out 19 arrest warrants since dawn targeting the Inzerillo clan in Sicily’s capital Palermo and the New York-based Gambino family.

Sicily’s organised crime group, known as ‘Cosa Nostra’ (Our Thing), has been in a state of flux since the death of the feared boss of bosses Salvatore “Toto” Riina, who died in prison in 2017 after spending almost a quarter of century behind bars.

Riina launched a ferocious mafia war on the Mediterranean island in the 1980s, forcing the Inzerillo family into self-imposed exile in the United States as his own clan took over their territory in the Palermo suburbs.

The family has since looked to reclaim its old business, police said, helped by strong allies in New York.

“The investigation, dubbed ‘New Connection’, has registered the strong bond established between Cosa Nostra Palermo and U.S. organised crime, with particular reference to the powerful Gambino crime family of New York,” a police statement said.

The Gambino crime operation is one of the five historic Italian-American Mafia families in New York. Past charges against family operatives have included murder, loan sharking and illegal drug distribution.

The reported crime boss of the family, Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, was gunned down in front of his Staten Island home in March. It was not clear if his murder had anything to do with tensions in Sicily.

Italian police said the suspects arrested on Wednesday faced a string of charges, including membership of the mafia, aggravated extortion, fraud and “unfair competition”.

Once all-powerful on Sicily, the Cosa Nostra has been squeezed over the past two decades, with many bosses put behind bars, many of its businesses sequestered and many locals ready to defy it.

Despite these setbacks, prosecutors have warned repeatedly that the group is looking to rebuild

The state’s fight against the Mafia got serious in 1992 after the group murdered two of Italy’s top magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, triggering national outrage and finally forcing complacent politicians to act.

Friday marks the 27th anniversary of Borsellino’s death.

(Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Peter Graff)

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