He took a loaded pistol to the head of Italian landowner Lazaro D’Oria to finally say yes to the country’s most sophisticated and violent mafia.

The Puglia farmer had resisted their extortion attempts in the past – threats, fire, damage to his crops and property.

But surprised by an early morning visit from a dozen men, including a boss, he agreed to a demand of €150,000 a year.

Instead of paying up the next day, D’Oria went to the police, who turned him into the notorious Foggia Mafia, one of the few to denounce Italy’s long-overlooked and today its most violent organized crime syndicate. Made one from

Italian farmer Lazaro D’Oria stands in front of burnt vehicles in San Severo, Foggia province, on March 6, 2023.

Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

“If more citizens press charges, the local mafia could be weakened,” D’Oria, who has been under police protection since 2017, told AFP.

“Citizens, speak up!” pleaded the 57-year-old, who sees the authorities’ recent crackdown as a sign that the mafia can be weakened if locals overcome their fears.

Its bloody tribal wars were once dismissed as peasant feuds, but the so-called “Fourth Mafia” — after Sicily Cosa Nostraof Calabria ‘Ndrangita And Naples Kimura — Alarm bells are finally ringing within the Italian state.

But it is too late. Italy’s youngest mafia already dominates the vast southeastern province, filling its coffers and consolidating its control through drug trafficking, extortion, armed robberies and the theft of vehicles and cattle for ransom.

“This is a primitive, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” said Ludovico Vaccaro, the public prosecutor of Foggia.

While other major mafias have graduated to less visible, more lucrative activities, including infiltration of the legitimate economy, the Foggia mafia is still in its infancy.

“Mafias today have evolved, so they shoot less, find a strategy of silence to avoid being noticed,” Vaccaro said.

“While it’s still a mafia that shoots and kills to show its power over territory.”

According to one 2021 report issued by the Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA) In Italy, the Foggia Mafia was marked for its “unscrupulous use of violence and ready availability of large quantities of weapons and explosives.”

“It’s easy to hide things”

“Fujia Mafia” is a catch-all label for syndicates made up of various groups involved in a wide array of crimes.

Foggia province has Italy’s third-highest homicide rate, and five of the 16 murders last year were mafia-related.

Family-based “battalions” from different regions often cooperated, dividing the amount of alimony that was paid to comrades and prisoners.

“Sometimes when there are disputes over the distribution of ill-gotten gains, fights break out and battalions start clashing and killing each other,” said Deputy Police Chief Mario Gracia.

Italian Mafia
In this 2018 file photo, police gather evidence during an operation against Italy’s so-called “fourth mafia” that led to the arrest of 30 suspected mobsters.

Italian police via AP

Each group has its own specialty, from military-style armed robberies of freight trucks in Cerignola to the old-school tactics used in the city of Foggia, where shops and cars are bombed at night to lure reluctant vendors into paying. is done

San Severo farmers like D’Oria often find their olive trees cut down, their crops burned or tractors or cattle stolen.

In Gargano, whose spectacular beaches welcome tourists as well as Albanian drug traffic, the mafia is particularly violent.

Four years ago, a human skull was left outside the municipal building for the mayor of Monte Sant’Angelo. A goat’s head with a dagger was left for the lawyer of the mother of a missing mafia victim that same year.

Authorities say the Gurgaon mafia’s calling card is shooting victims in the face or throwing them into caves.

Prosecutor Vaccaro said it’s easy to cover things up.

During a recent operation with police in the city of Foggia, AFP saw numerous reminders of the bloodshed that has terrorized the population for decades.

There’s the place where builder Giovanni Pinonzio was shot in 1992 for being the first to denounce the Mafia, the abandoned farmhouse where police foiled an attack on a local businessman last year, and the cafe that The owner died of a stab wound to the eye during 2020. Robbery.

“There is no mafia war yet, but accounts are being settled,” said a detective who requested anonymity.

In November, Nicola DiRenzo, 21, lay dead in a public park for hours and was shot five times before her 17-year-old killer walked in.

During that time, “nobody said anything, nobody heard anything, nobody spoke,” the detective said.

Deputy Chief Gracia said he was particularly troubled by the murders of three minors last year.

“Participants in these ‘kid gangs’ have relationships with people associated with organized crime,” he said.

The newest threat of the mafia is the infiltration of government institutions. Foggia’s city council was dissolved in 2021 due to mafia infiltration and its mayor was arrested on corruption charges, one of five local governments in the province dissolved since 2015.

“You always feel fear”

Several top officials, including Rocco Moretti and Roberto Cinisi, have been jailed in recent years as authorities try to wrest control of the area from the mafia.

But one of their competitors, Raffaele Tolonese, and last month’s upcoming release Gargano boss Marco Radiano escapes from prisonidentify challenges.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to reassure locals, promising to beef up security, which local officials say is in dire need of surveillance cameras and street lamps.

Beyond these basics, Vaccaro argued that more police, prosecutors and courts are desperately needed to combat “the climate of fear and intimidation, cultural and social poverty”.

Only one courthouse functions in the entire province, where more than 12,000 criminal cases are pending.

“In this vast area, either the state has control, or the criminals will take it,” Vaccaro said.

Last summer, a fire broke out in D’Oria’s grain fields. Three of its tractor units have been burnt. Even worse, he said, was the bank, which cut his credit lines in half, deeming him “high risk.”

Still, Kisan sees signs of hope in recent arrests and convictions that show the state is finally stepping up.

“I feel a lot safer than before. But you always feel fear,” he said.

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