Italian police arrest 40 and film mafia initiation

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Media captionJames Reynolds reports on the video released by police

Anti-mafia police have released unprecedented footage of an initiation ritual filmed as part of an inquiry into the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

Some 40 suspects were arrested as the authorities targeted mafia cells in northern Italy.

Three groups were under investigation, based north of Milan, in the provinces of Como and Lecco in Lombardy region.

Most of the arrests were in northern Italy, but some of the men were detained in Sicily.

The 'Ndrangheta is based in Calabria, in the far south "toe-end" of Italy.

Italian media said the investigation had involved phone intercepts as well as secret filming and the three groups at the ceremony came from small villages in Como and Lecco.

Mafia initiation rite - by James Reynolds, BBC News, Rome

The grainy pictures, filmed from a distance by a hidden police camera, show for the first time an initiation ceremony into the southern Italian mafia known as the 'Ndrangheta.

"Holy afternoon greetings to the devotees," says a man in a baseball cap to three men huddled around him on a terrace.

Image caption In the grainy footage, a new member is asked to swear to protect the honour of his "wise brothers"

A new member is asked to swear to his family's seventh generation to protect the honour of his wise brothers. Then the initiator gives him some rather forceful instructions.

"If you are careless," he warns, "there is a cyanide pill." Either this, or ensure you always leave one round in your gun for yourself, he adds.

The initiator ends with a final request: "If anyone asks you where you're from, you must answer: 'My father is the sun, my mother is the moon.'"

Answers that may not be particularly helpful for the mafia members now facing years in prison.

During the meeting, those present organised their hierarchy and allotted roles to each other. One of those sworn in was 17 years of age, officials said.

Milan anti-mafia prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who led the investigation, said the video showed how "the force of tradition" enabled the 'Ndrangheta to survive.

The 'Ndrangheta are known to have distinctive initiation rites and an elite membership known as "Santa".

Those arrested by a special police unit were being held on suspicion of belonging to the mafia and extortion, as well as carrying unlicensed guns.

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