Family of top Mafia 'godfather' arrested in Sicily

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From left: Guttadaro Francesco, Mario Messina Denaro and Patrizia Messina Denaro (composite image of police handout pictures)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Guttadaro Francesco (from left), Mario Messina Denaro and Patrizia Messina Denaro were arrested

Family members of Italy's most-wanted Sicilian Mafia suspect, Matteo Messina Denaro, have been arrested in a police swoop in western Sicily.

A sister, a nephew and two cousins of the fugitive Cosa Nostra "Super Boss" were picked up in the Trapani area along with 26 other people.

They face charges that include Mafia association and extortion.

Prosecutors describe the arrests as a decisive step in the hunt for Mr Denaro, on the run for 20 years.

There are allegations that members of the group had a criminal stranglehold on the local construction industry, and assets worth nearly 5m euros (£4.2m; $6.9m) were seized.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Italian prosecutor Maria Teresa Principato announced the arrests

'I filled a cemetery'

This would seem to be part of an effort to drain Messina Denaro of the wealth that is the source of much of his power, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports.

But he is also protected to an extent by the fear and mystique that surrounds him, our Rome correspondent adds.

He is accused of killing dozens of people, reportedly boasting that he "filled a whole cemetery" on his own.

The Sicilian Mafia is not the force it once was, our correspondent adds.

Some of its most formidable godfathers have been arrested and jailed and this meant that Messina Denaro inherited the dominant position.

He is now regarded as the "boss of bosses", the last really major figure still on the run, our correspondent says.