Catania (Italy): Anti-mafia police in Sicily on Wednesday arrested 109 suspects, including three women, during a major operation against one of the island's most lethal crime families.
The swoop targeted members and bosses of the Laudani crime family, based in the port city of Catania, who face charges including mafia association, extortion, drugs and arms trafficking.
Investigators described the suspects as belonging to "one of the most entrenched and dangerous" crime syndicates in the area, which had gained autonomy from the Sicilian mafia "through pitiless violence" and had links to the Calabrian mafia.
The Laudani clan runs a brutal racketeering and extortion empire, and took part in deadly blood feuds between warring Sicilian mafia clans in the 1980s and 1990s, investigators said.
The clan "exerted a stranglehold over the area, which damaged local businesses and economic activity... also through acts of aggression towards business people", police said in a statement.
Such was the level of fear and "subjugation" among the clan's alleged extortion victims that no specific report to police was made against it, the statement said.
In fact many victims denied having paid the clan protection money.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano hailed Wednesday's operation as "another body blow to criminality".
"It is a great day for our people and our country," said Alfano, who comes from Sicily.
"Let's continue down this road so that citizens may have the strength to break free from those criminals who want to keep hostage Sicily's economy and its citizens. (IANS)