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How the tiny Italian city of Foggia became a mafia battleground

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Foggia, in Puglia, has been rocked by a wave of bombings
Foggia, in Puglia, has been rocked by a wave of bombings   -  
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Interior Ministry
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On 10 January, residents of Foggia, in the southern Italian region of Puglia, took to the streets to protest against organised crime.

The first three weeks of 2020 have seen a wave of bomb attacks and at least one murder, while four municipalities of the province - Monte Sant'Angelo, Mattinata, Manfredonia and Cerignola - have been placed under "extraordinary administration" because of links to the mafia.

A new anti-mafia task force, with its headquarters in Foggia, will begin work on February 15 in an attempt to combat collusion between mafioso, lawyers, public services and local business.

“[Foggia is a] middle ground where lawful and illicit business tends to meet, to the point of confusion,” according to the most recent Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA) report.

What's the background to the mafia in the region?

The roots of the mafia in Puglia dates back to the 1980s, and the Sacra Corona Unita, under charismatic leader Pino Rogoli, a mob boss who has been in jail in Bari since 1981.

Sacra Corona Unita is a project of regional syndicate of around 50 clans with some 2,000 members, involved in smuggling cigarettes, drugs, arms and people.

In August 2017, the Sacra Corona Unita was implicated in the murder of four people, a local mafioso and his brother as well as two innocent bystanders.

Now, in 2020, the gangs in Foggia are once again embroiled in violence.

"To create criminal fame is an essential point of the mafia phenomenon," says Andrea Leccese, a mafia expert and author of Malapuglia, a book about the mafia in Puglia published in 2019. "It is a noisy mafia, which draws attention to itself.”

Leccese contrasts this with the Cosa Nostra, the ndrangheta or the Bari and Salento mafia, which tend to shun acts of outright violence that could threaten their significant economic interests and draw the attention of the police and government.

Unlike the nearby Bari mafia, the Foggia groups have not been subject to large-scale financial confiscations, he adds. In 2018, the Bari mafia saw more than a billion euros worth of assets seized in Malta, Curacao, Virgin Islands and the Seychelles.

Violence increasing

The main activity of the Foggia mafia is racketeering and extortion targeting local businesses, and the use of arson and bomb attacks on businesses is a method of persuading them to pay up - hence the increase in violence of recent weeks.

Meanwhile, it is increasingly difficult to find local politicians that do not have some connection to the Foggia clans, said Leonardo Palmisano, a sociologist at the Polytechnic of Bari and author of Mafia Caporale, a 2017 book.

"It had never happened before that two large municipalities like Cerignola and Manfredonia were put under extraordinary administration in the same year,” Palmisano said.

Equally, the administrations that have been impacted cross the political divide.

He said: “One administration belonged to the centre-right, the other to centre-left: this creates a sense of confusion in the citizenship who does not know anymore who is to trust, and who is not."

The geographical location of the Foggia clans has long restricted their influence. They can’t expand in the direction of Bari because of the Cerignola and Andria clans, which work closely together, while the Romito of Manfredonia dominates the coast.

As a result, they have little access to the lucrative trade in cocaine or links to South American cartels.

“[They] tighten the territory and impoverish it, exploit their own little backyard to the point of bleeding it dry, while other mafias [are] open - like the Bari, which has always had relations with the Balkan mafias", says Palmisano.

Are locals fighting back?

The bombings are not new - in 2019, there was an attack every four days until the end of February - although the targets are more retaliatory, aimed specifically at local businesses that complained to the police about extortion.

But equally reports that the gangs are asking for as much as €100,000 from local businesses - as well as the fact that victims are increasingly willing to raise their heads - may indicate that the demands of organised crime are becoming untenable.

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