BBC News

Italy mafia boss Zagaria found in bunker

image captionMichele Zagaria, 53, had been in hiding since the 1990s

Italian police have arrested the notorious chief of a Naples mafia clan, Michele Zagaria, who has been on the run for 16 years.

Police said they found him after digging into a secret bunker in his hometown of Casapesenna near Naples.

The head of the powerful Casalesi clan has been sentenced to multiple life sentences in absentia.

The Casalesi clan has been involved in drug trafficking and corruption in the construction industry.

There was jubilation among the security forces who finally managed to detain Zagaria, the BBC's Alan Johnston, in Rome, reports.

"You won. The state has won," Zagaria told anti-mafia investigators as he was being arrested.

Italian Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri hailed the arrest as "a huge success by the state", adding that it would be a blow "not only against the Casalesi clan, but against the entire Camorra organisation."

'Near home'

A total of 50 police officers were involved in the operation to remove Zagaria, 53, from the underground bunker, discovered beneath an anonymous building in his rural hometown.

The bunker structure itself was made of reinforced concrete up to five metres thick, according to Italy's Il Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Dozens of houses and buildings in the area had been searched by a team of 350 officers before he was found, La Repubblica reports.

image captionPolice in Caserta greeted the news with joy

The Casalesi clan is one of a number of groups within the Camorra criminal network, which dominates the underworld in the Naples area. Zagaria is thought to be the most senior figure in the Camorra who was still at large.

Zagaria had probably spent his years as a fugitive near home because mafia bosses "can only exercise their power if they're in an environment that protects them," anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso told the AP news agency.

Italian writer and crime journalist, Roberto Saviano said he had wanted to "jump with joy" when told of Zagaria's arrest.

"He wasn't just the king of the Camorra," Mr Saviano said, according to La Repubblica. "He was the manager of all criminal organisations".

He said he thought that Zagaria had finally been found because "after the fall of Berlusconi's government, someone decided to collaborate with police".

More on this story

  • Standing up to Naples' mafia