It took a loaded pistol pointed at Lazzaro D’Auria’s head for the Italian landowner to lastly say sure to the nation’s latest and most violent mafia.
The Puglia farmer had resisted their extortion makes an attempt prior to now — the threats, the fires, the harm to his crops and property.
However shocked by the early morning go to of a dozen males, together with a boss with a gun, he agreed to their demand for 150,000 euros a 12 months.
As an alternative of paying up the subsequent day, D’Auria went to the police, making him one of many few folks to ever denounce Foggia’s little-known mafia, Italy’s long-ignored and in the present day its most violent organized crime syndicate.
“If extra residents pressed fees, the native mafia might be weakened,” D’Auria, who has lived underneath police safety since 2017, informed AFP.
“Residents, communicate out!” implored the 57-year-old, who sees latest crackdowns by authorities as an indication the mafia will be weakened if locals overcome their fears.
Its bloody clan wars had been as soon as dismissed as farmers’ feuds, however the so-called “Fourth Mafia” — after Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta and Naples’ Camorra — is lastly setting off alarm bells contained in the Italian state.
However it has come late. Italy’s youngest mafia already has a stranglehold over the huge southeastern province, filling its coffers and cementing its management via drug trafficking, extortion, armed robberies and the theft of autos and livestock for ransom.
“It is a rudimentary, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” stated Ludovico Vaccaro, Foggia’s public prosecutor.
Whereas the opposite principal mafias have graduated to much less seen, extra worthwhile actions, together with infiltrating the authentic financial system, the Foggia mafia continues to be in a nascent section.
“Immediately the mafias have advanced, in order that they shoot much less, in search of a method of silence to remain unnoticed,” Vaccaro stated.
“Whereas that is nonetheless a mafia that, to indicate its energy over the territory, shoots and kills.”
Based on a 2021 report issued by the Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA) in Italy, the Foggia mafia was singled out for its “unscrupulous use of violence and the prepared availability of enormous portions of weapons and explosives.”
“It is easy to cover issues”
The “Foggia mafia” is a catch-all label for a syndicate comprised of various teams concerned in a big selection of crimes.
The province of Foggia has Italy’s third-highest murder price, and 5 of the 16 murders final 12 months had been mafia-related.
Household-based “battalions” from totally different areas usually cooperate, dividing extortion cash that pays associates and prisoners.
“When conflicts typically come up over the division of the illicit proceeds, there are quarrels and the battalions conflict and begin killing one another,” stated deputy police chief Mario Grassia.
Every group has its specialty, from the military-style armed robberies of freight vehicles in Cerignola to the old-school ways used within the metropolis of Foggia, the place nighttime bombings of storefronts and vehicles persuade hesitating shopkeepers to pay up.
Farmers in San Severo like D’Auria usually discover their olive bushes felled, their harvests torched or tractors or livestock stolen.
In Gargano, whose spectacular coast welcomes vacationers in addition to Albanian drug shipments, the mafia is especially violent.
4 years in the past, a human cranium was left exterior a municipal constructing for the mayor of Monte Sant’Angelo. The skinned head of a goat with a dagger via it was left the identical 12 months for the lawyer of a disappeared mafia sufferer’s mom.
The Gargano mafia’s calling card, authorities say, is taking pictures victims within the face, or dumping them in caves.
“It is easy to cover issues. Each every now and then we discover one thing critical, stolen vehicles, our bodies of lacking folks,” prosecutor Vaccaro stated.
Throughout a latest drive with police via the town of Foggia, AFP noticed numerous reminders of the bloodshed that has terrorized the inhabitants for many years.
There’s the spot the place builder Giovanni Panunzio was shot in 1992 for being the primary to denounce the mafia, the deserted farmhouse the place police thwarted an ambush of an area businessman final 12 months and the cafe whose proprietor died after being stabbed within the eye throughout a 2020 theft.
“Proper now there isn’t any mafia battle, however there is a settling of accounts,” stated a detective who requested anonymity.
In November, Nicola Di Rienzo, 21, lay lifeless for hours in a public park after being shot 5 occasions earlier than his 17-year-old killer turned himself in.
Within the meantime, “nobody stated something, nobody heard something, nobody spoke up,” stated the detective.
Deputy chief Grassia stated he was significantly involved by three of final 12 months’s murders being dedicated by minors.
“These taking part in these ‘child gangs’ have kinship ties with topics linked to organized crime,” he stated.
The most recent hazard posed by the mafia is infiltrating public establishments. Foggia’s metropolis council was dissolved in 2021 resulting from mafia infiltration and its mayor arrested on corruption fees, considered one of 5 native governments within the province dissolved since 2015.
“You all the time really feel the worry”
In recent times quite a lot of high bosses, together with Rocco Moretti and Roberto Sinesi, have been jailed as authorities attempt to wrest management of the territory from the mafia.
However the upcoming launch of considered one of their rivals, Raffaele Tolonese, and final month’s jail escape of Gargano boss Marco Raduano, underscore the challenges.
Inside Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to hunt to reassure locals, pledging to strengthen safety, together with including what native authorities say are badly wanted surveillance cameras and road lamps.
Past these fundamentals, argued Vaccaro, extra police, prosecutors and courts are desperately wanted to counter the “local weather of worry and intimidation, the cultural and social poverty.”
Just one courthouse serves the whole province, the place a backlog of over 12,000 legal instances is ready to be tried.
“On this huge territory, both the state has management, or the criminals will take it,” stated Vaccaro.
Final summer time, D’Auria’s grain fields went up in flames. Three of his tractor models have been burned. Worse, he stated, is the financial institution, which reduce his credit score strains by half, contemplating him “excessive threat”.
Nonetheless, the farmer sees indicators of hope in latest arrests and convictions that present the state lastly stepping up.
“I really feel much more secure than earlier than. However you all the time really feel the worry,” he stated.