‘Bravo’: Notorious Mafia boss arrested after 30 years on run

People have cheered on the streets as Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss, who once boasted he had enough victims “to fill a cemetery”, was captured after 30 years on the run.

Matteo Messina Denaro, the head of the Cosa Nostra Mafia, was arrested in a private hospital in Sicily’s capital Palermo where he has been undergoing chemotherapy.

He was wanted for numerous heinous murders and had been at large since 1993, with authorities not even sure what he looked like anymore.

The frail-looking 60-year-old was carted off in a minivan after an operation involving  100 officers tracked him down to the La Maddalena hospital on Monday morning (local time).

Images on social media showed locals shouting “bravo” as they applauded and shook hands with police in balaclavas while the suspect was driven away.

Messina Denaro had been sentenced to life in absentia for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

He also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan in 1993 which killed 10 people.

Another of his infamous crimes was the kidnapping, torture and killing of the 11-year-old son of an enemy who gave evidence against the clan.

Other roles as a crime boss included overseeing racketeering, money-laundering and drug-trafficking for the powerful syndicate.

Matteo Messina Denaro is transported in a minivan. Photo: Carabinieri via Getty Images

Messina Denaro had been having hospital appointments under a fake name for some time, Italy’s Ansa news agency reported.

Police had secretly moved officers into the building overnight to safeguard other patients.

Italian news agencies said the Mafioso is believed to be suffering from cancer.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed the arrest as “a great victory for the state that shows it never gives up in the face of the Mafia”.

The arrest comes almost 30 years to the day since police arrested Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the Sicilian Mafia’s most powerful boss of the 20th century who died in jail in 2017, having never broken his code of silence.

Messina Denaro was reportedly a protege of Totò Riina who headed the Corleone clan.

Carabinieri outside the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo. Photo: Getty

The BBC reports that few photos of Messina Denaro existed and police had to rely on digital composites to reconstruct his appearance in the decades after he went on the run.

Nicknamed ‘Diabolik’ after an uncatchable comic book thief and ‘U Siccu’ (meaning skinny) he was thought to be the underworld gang’s last “secret-keeper”.

University of Essex criminology professor Anna Sergi told the BBC there was speculation that someone in the crime world had decided he was no longer useful.

“This means he was likely still part of structure where there is an exchange of favours between the Mafia and state, and where one can be given up in return for something,” she said.

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