Italian police: The head of the Sicilian Mafia used 'sheep code' to communicate

The head of the Sicilian Mafia, on the run for over 20 year, has been using “sheep code” to communicate with allies, the BBC reports.

Eleven men associated with mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro were arrested recently, and according to the Italian police, Denaro communicated with them by leaving bits of papers under a rock in a field near a farm in western Sicily.

The communication method called “pizzini” includes writing the messages in a secret code, according to AFP.

Among the men arrested during raids across Sicily on Monday, two were over 70 years old, one of them, Vito Gondola, had the responsibility to call or text the members of the clan to let them know when a new message was ready.Police said many of the messages used to alert fellow criminals that a new “pizzini” was ready often referred to sheep.

Among the lines used were: “The sheep need shearing… the shears need sharpening” or “The hay is ready.” The Italian police said they do not believe the mafia members were discussing agricultural matters.

Another phrase used was “I’ve put the ricotta cheese aside for you, will you come by later?”

The Italian police spied on the mafia day and night over several months by placing cameras in trees around the farm and fields, according to La Repubblica.

Screen shot of video from Italian police surveillance cameras.La RepubblicaScreen shot of a video from Italian police surveillance cameras.

The Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra, used to be Italy’s most powerful organised crime organisation before massive crackdowns and government monitoring left it weakened by the late 1990’s, relinquishing its power to Caladria’s
Ndrangheta, which remains the most powerful mafia in Italy. Another major blow to the Sicilian mafia came in 2009, when Italian police arrested one of its top bosses, Domenico Raccuglia, on the run for 15 years.

Denaro is the most wanted fugitive of the Cosa Nostra and has been convicted in abstentia for different mafia crimes inlcluding murder. He is seen as the successor to two jailed Mafia godfathers and once said he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims, according to the BBC.

In a post on his Facebook page, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, thanked the police for their capture and said that Italy was united against organised crime.

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