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Italy Again Hits Mafia Amid Signs of a Backlash

The capture of another alleged leader of `Cosa Nostra' follows a ruinous blast in Rome aimed at a crusading journalist

THE Italian state has won another victory against its criminal organizations, just days after a devastating bomb attack in Rome and days before the first anniversary of the murder of popular anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.

Nitto Santapaola, the reputed boss of the Mafia in Catania, was arrested in a May 18 dawn raid in Mazzarone, Sicily, after more than 10 years in hiding.

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Mafia experts identify him as second only to Salvatore Riina in "Cosa Nostra." Mr. Riina, the reputed "boss of bosses" in Palermo, was arrested on Jan. 15.

"It's another hard blow to the Mafia, but it's necessary to continue," Interior Minister Nicola Mancino said after the arrest.

In addition to commenting on the arrest of Mr. Santapaola, Mr. Mancino delivered an official report to Parliament May 18 on the powerful May 14 car-bomb explosion in the fashionable Parioli section of Rome, which was heard more than a mile away. No one killed

At least 50 cars and nearly 40 apartments were damaged in the Via Ruggero Fauro blast, but no one was killed and injuries were relatively minor.

"I thought it was a storm," says Ricardo Carretero, a Spanish psychiatrist and seven-year resident of Rome. He says the windows of his Parioli apartment shook, but that he did not hear the blast, probably because of a hill between his apartment and the blast site.

"The attacks are very dangerous right now," added Mr. Carretero, who hailed the news of Santapaola's arrest. "The Mafia is crumbling; they're desperate."

Mancino told Parliament that the apparent object of the Via Ruggero Fauro blast was Maurizio Costanzo, the host of a popular late-night talk show, which is taped in a theater near the scene of devastation.

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Mr. Costanzo's car passed an explosive-laden Fiat Uno just a few seconds before the blast; had his car gone by five seconds later, the television personality would have been hit. Members of Costanzo's escort were injured.

Police artists have created sketches of two men driven to Parioli by a taxi driver, seen by residents in the area before the blast, and later seen again by the taxi driver at Rome's central railway station. The men had Sicilian accents, the taxi driver said.

Costanzo has crusaded against Cosa Nostra on his program and in columns written for various newspapers and magazines. He was preparing a live program, together with talk show host Michele Santoro, commemorating Judge Falcone to be aired May 20. The two men did a similar, successful anti-Mafia program more than a year ago.

The arrest of Santapaola follows a bad day in court for Riina. In a bunker in Rome's Rebibbia prison on May 13, he had face-to-face meetings with two of his ex-Mafia accusers, Gaspare Mutolo and Giuseppe Marchese. State's evidence

The Mafia penitents gave apparently credible and detailed testimony, for which Riina seemed less than adequately prepared.

At one point Riina responded, "How shall I call you: Mutolo, Mr. Mutolo, little Gaspare.... I have known you since you were a child, when you were going in and out of jail. Why are you doing these things now? Why don't you go back to being that good boy, that good person that you used to be?"

The same day Parliament approved lifting the immunity from prosecution of Senator-for-life Giulio Andreotti, a seven-time prime minister. Mr. Andreotti is accused by various Mafia penitents of having close links with the Mafia.

Baldassare Di Maggio, Riina's ex-driver and bodyguard, says he personally accompanied Riina to a Sicilian meeting with Andreotti, the late Christian Democrat politician Salvo Lima, and Mafia businessman Ignazio Salvo, at which, Mr. Di Maggio alleges, Riina and Andreotti greeted each other with a kiss.

Other Mafia penitents allege that there were two more meetings in Sicily between Andreotti and leaders of Cosa Nostra, that Andreotti was - in mob jargon - the Mafia's "point of reference" in Rome to whom the organization turned when things weren't going its way politically, and that Cosa Nostra carried out assassinations as favors to Andreotti. Andreotti has vigorously denied the charges against him.

At first the former premier strenuously objected to the waiving of his immunity, arguing that he was the victim of persecution, but in the end he requested that his immunity be lifted and that the trial begin as quickly as possible.

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