Matteo Messina Denaro: who is Mafia boss, what is the Cosa Nostra - was he arrested in Sicily?

Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro has been arrested in Sicily after more than 30 years on the run - he was sentenced in absentia in 2002 for multiple murders

Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most-wanted alleged Mafia boss has been arrested in Sicily in a major operation. Denaro is believed to be a boss in the Sicilian Mafia, known as Cosa Nostra, a major organised crime syndicate which originated in the 19th century.

Denaro was reportedly detained at the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, an Italian island region. According to Italian media reports, he was arrested this morning (16 January) just before 10am local time (9am UK time), in an operation involving more than 100 members of the armed forces.

Who is Matteo Messina Denaro?

Matteo Denaro, also known by the moniker Diabolik, an Italian comic-book anti-hero and thief, is a 60 year old criminal and crime boss. He began working for organised crime when he was 18, becoming a bodyguard for the D'Ali crime family.

Denaro had been on the Italian government’s most wanted list since 1993 and had been on the run for the last 30 years - though he is believed to have continued to have given orders to his subordinates during this time. In 2010, he was on the Forbes list of The World's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives, alongside terrorist Osama bin Laden and Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony.

Matteo Messina Denaro is transported in a van after he was arrested In Sicily

In 2002, Denaro was tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in several murders and bomb attacks including the 1992 killings of prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who had taken on the Mafia. He was also involved in a series of deadly bomb attacks in the Italian cities Milan, Florence, and Rome, as well as the torture and murder of the 11 year old son of a former Mafia member who had turned state’s witness.

In 1998, Denaro became a Capo Mandamento (head of a territory) of the town of Castelvetrano in Sicily. Denaro continued to rise through the ranks of the Mafia whilst still on the run - he made his money through racketeering, involvement in the international drugs trade, as well as through some legitimate businesses, such as investment in a supermaket chain, and olive oil production.

What is the Cosa Nostra?

Cosa Nostra is the Sicilian Mafia - the name roughly translates to ‘our thing’. It is an organised crime syndicate which originated in Sicily some time in the 19th century and is known for its secrecy. Cosa Nostra is an association of several similar crime groups in Italy and each group controls a certain territory, making money through criminal activities such as intimidation, expolitation, the drug trade and human trafficking.

Cosa Nostra uses terroristic methods to enforce its control and maintain power, and has been responsible for reprisals against goverment figures who have attempted to curtail them. Anti-Mafia police involved in the arrest of Denaro wore black balaclavas, partly for physical protection but also to protect their identity in order to avoid reprisals against themselves or their family.

The American Mafia was an off-shoot of Cosa Nostra and became dominant in the US in the late 19th century - now the American Mafia is distinct from the Sicilian Mafia, though it is often referred to as Cosa Nostra.

Was Matteo Messina Denaro arrested?

Yes, Denaro was arrested on the morning of 16 January at the Maddalena clinic in Palermo, Sicily, where he was due to undergo treatment for an undisclosed condition. The arrest could prove to be a major blow to his crime network. Denaro’s arrest comes almost exactly 30 years to the day since the former Sicilian Mafia chief Totò Riina was apprehended in the same city - Riina was arrested on 15 January 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple murders - he died in 2017.

Police took Denaro to a secret location and placed him in custody, ending his 30 year stint on the run. Denaro’s brother-in-law, Rosario Allegra, was photographed being led out of police headquarters in Palerma in 2018 during an operation in which some of Denaro’s closest aides were arrested.

Giorgia Meloni, the Italian Prime Minister, tweeted in Italian: ”A great victory for the state which demonstrates that it does not give up in the face of the mafia. In the aftermath of the anniversary of the arrest of Totò Riina, another head of organized crime, Matteo Messina Denaro, is brought to justice.”