Sicilian mafia boss Salvatore Riina is close to being freed on “compassionate grounds”.
The man known as “the Beast” is considered the most brutal Sicilian godfather. His reputation earned him the title of the Sicilian Mafia’s “Il Capo dei Capi” (“Boss of all Bosses”).
He was jailed in 1993 and found guilty of more than 100 counts of murder.
The most notorious of them was placing the order to kill magistrate Giovanni Falcone in 1992, who had dedicated himself to breaking the power of the Sicilian mafia. A half-tonne of explosives and weeks of meticulous planning went into blowing up Falcone’s car on the motorway between Palermo and its airport. The explosion registered on local monitors as a small earthquake.
Riina also ordered the deaths of Falcone’s friend and fellow prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, and politician Salvatore Lima.
Riina, 86, has cancer. An Italian high court has agreed he can be released from prison to allow him to “die with dignity”.
Not surprisingly, the decision has been met with outrage. During the 80s and 90s, Riina was responsible for more than just the deaths of opponents and officials. He deliberately targeted citizens, killing women and children, as “distractions”.
Even behind bars, he orchestrated the death of a 13-year-old boy whose father had turned informant. The boy’s body was dissolved in acid, a favoured method of disposal for Riina.
Riina openly declared to his henchmen that an informant’s children were legitimate targets.
Here’s an account from “The Last Godfathers” by John Follain, of a celebrated day in Riina’s life when he invited a rival from another Palermo clan for an afternoon dinner, Rosario Riccobono, in November, 1982.
After being plied with enough food and wine to ensure a sound siesta, Riccobono and his three bodyguards were strangled and their bodies dissolved in acid. Then Riina’s men really went to work:
That afternoon and evening, Riina oversaw the murder of 20 mafiosi; some were Riccobono’s followers and the rest were from another Palermo clan. Several… were cut down while they strolled through the gardens. Others were shot at their homes or vanished without a trace. Some bodies were thrown into drums filled with acid, others were scattered with corrosive chemicals and buried in the grounds of the estate. Body parts that survived such treatment were poured down a drain or thrown into the sea.
Riina was euphoric. “We did better even than the Americans and their Saint Valentine’s Day massacre,” he said smugly.
By 2004, both of Riina’s sons had joined him in jail on various murder, racketeering and money laundering charges.
Riina is considered so dangerous he is kept under special conditions in jail, whereby he can only leave his cell for two hours a day, has no contact with other prisoners, and cannot access reading material.
Italy’s highest court granted the request to let Riina die under house arrest on Monday. It is now up to a parole board in Bologna, near Parma, where Riina is being held, to allow his final release. Last year it dismissed a petition for his release.
National anti-Mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he believes Riina is still the head of the Sicilian Mafia.
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