Mafia ‘beast’ dies 87
Mafia “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina, who was serving 26 life sentences as the mastermind of a strategy to assassinate rivals and Italian prosecutors trying to bring down the Cosa Nostra, has died of cancer in the prison wing of a Parma hospital.
The 87-year-old died hours after the Justice Ministry had agreed to allow family members at his bedside. He had been in a medically induced coma after two recent operations.
After was captured in the Sicilian capital Palermo in 1993, he was jailed under a law that requires strict security for mob bosses, including isolation in prison and limited time outside their cells.
Riina, known in Sicilian dialect as “U Cortu” or Shorty because of his limited height, terrorised Sicily for nearly 20 years until his arrest in 1993.
Riina was brought down as a result of the assassination of his most famous victim, Giovanni Falcone, the anti-mafia judge murdered in a car bomb Riina ordered in 1992.
The death of “the Beast” could unleash a turf war between rival factions in Sicily, Italy was warned.
His brutality sent many opponents into exile in the US and Latin America and there are now fears that “the exiles” could seek revenge against “the Corleonesi” or Riina lieutenants who come from the hilltop town of Corleone (pictured), immortalised by the Godfather trilogy.
“Riina’s allies are terrified that the exiles will return and exact vengeance for the slaughter of the 1980s. Riina drove many of his enemies into exile. Since his capture, they have been angling to return,” said John Dickie, author of “Mafia Republic – Italy’s Criminal Curse”.
Older residents of Corleone remembered him with fondness.
“When Riina was around, everybody had a job here in Corleone,” said Paolo, 77, of the infamous town. “These men gave us jobs. I knew him. I knew him very well. It’s a day like the other as you can see. But not a day to celebrate.”
Riina rose to power in the mid-1970s, leading the Corleone crime family as Sicily had become a hub for the heroin trade into the US following the Vietnam War. Riina became fixated on the drug money that he saw flowing to his rivals in Palermo.
He created new alliances and staged a coup using death squads, said Dickie, who also wrote Mafia Republic. “He assassinated his rivals. He killed all of them, hundreds of them, he literally ethnically cleansed them out of Palermo,” Dickie added.
After Riina’s 1993 arrest, the “capo di tutti capi” (boss of bosses) title fell to Bernardo “The Tractor” Provenzano, who was arrested in 2006, after more than 40 years on the run. The Cosa Nostra has since lacked clear leadership.
Corleone. Picture credit: Flickr