Capture of Mafia boss may be end of the Corleonesi

BEFORE making their final move, the detectives wanted one last, definitive roof that they had their man

BEFORE making their final move, the detectives wanted one last, definitive roof that they had their man. It was last Monday evening and, on a deserted dusty track among the dunes close to seaside houses outside Agrigento, southern Sicily, a young man in shirt and jeans rode a noisy moped up and down.

The young man, however, was a policeman in disguise and the moped's silencer had been removed. Palermo's anti Mafia flying squad was about to move in. They were sure they had identified the hideaway of Giovanni Brusca, the most wanted mafioso on the run, allegedly the most powerful figure in Cosa Nostra following the arrests of godfather "Toto" Riina and his side kick Leoluca Bagarella.

They had Brusca's mobile phone under surveillance for days. When Brusca made a call on Monday evening, the man on the moped moved past the house where they believed Brusca was holed up. The detectives can hear Brusca loud and clear they can also hear a moped in the background. This is it.

Within minutes, 30 policemen surrounded and then burst into the two storey, summer house being used by Brusca, his brother, Vincenzo, and their two wives. They found the extended Brusca family at table, eating a steak and side salad while watching television. Both Brusca brothers make a run for it out the back of the house but the attempt was short lived. The most wanted mafioso of the moment were caught handcuffed and on his way to detention.

Giovanni Brusca's five year old son, Davide, was also sitting at the table with his family when the police raided. In front of the television was a video game of Davide's and three Walt Disney videos, The Aristocrats, The Little Mermaid and Jasmine's Dream in the corner was a bag full of jewels, watches and cash.

Lego, toy guns and a child's mountain bike were testimony to the apparent normality of the temporary Brusca household. Apparent, of course, because five year olds born into the Mafia learn that they are different, that they can never invite friends home and that they must never tell anyone their father's name, occupation, telephone number or type of car. The less said, the better the school of omerta, even for little Davide.

THE apparent domesticity of the Brusca life on the run is not an irrelevant consideration. Investigators had both Brusca wives, Rosaria and Piera, tailed in the hope that they might lead them to their husbands which they did. Whenever the Brusca ladies went to the hairdresser or supermarket, they were being watched.

Many recent anti Mafia investigations in Sicily have relied heavily on the evidence of mafioso turned state's witness. However, Palermo police have this week been proud to point out that the capture of Brusca was thanks to old fashioned leg work.

The arrest of a minor mafia figure some weeks ago produced a mysterious mobile phone number and the indication that Brusca might have moved south to Agrigento, away from his stronghold of San Giuseppe Jato, a small village halfway between Palermo and Corleone that had become too "hot".

Surveillance of mobile phone calls in the Agrigento area eventually came up with a voice sounding very much like Brusca. Street surveillance around Agrigento then identified the Brusca wives and they, in turn, led police to the final hideaway.

When Brusca was driven into Palermo police headquarters his arrival was marked by remarkable scenes of celebration from policemen who were involved in his capture. Wearing masks (anonymity can be a lifesaving precaution for a Palermo cop) and brandishing automatic weapons, the anti Mafia police gave understandable expression to their pent up tension, anger and frustration.

Giovanni Brusca was a man that every cop in Palermo dearly wanted to put inside. He was not just the latest in the endless line of Mafia godfathers that the Cosa Nostra Hydra keeps throwing up.

No, Giovanni Brusca was the man who allegedly pressed the button that four years ago blew up Mafia investigative Givoanni Falcone, along with his wife and three body guards.

The Falcone killing and that of his friend, Paolo Borsellino two months later in the summer of 1992, remain firmly etched in the collective Palermo police memory. Not only were the state's two most brilliant Mafia investigators wiped out but friends and colleagues were killed too. Among those who arrested Brusca on Monday was 42 year old police inspector Luciano Traina. Four years ago, his 25 year old brother Claudio, was killed, along with Judge Borsellino.

ON a less personal level, the arrest of Brusca is of immense significance.

Since the arrest of "Toto" Riina in January, 1993, Brusca has been the mastermind behind two key Casa Nostra strategies.

Firstly, he has waged a terror campaign against those mafiosi who turned state's witness and whose testimony not only led to the arrest of Riina but also pointed to his own leading role in the Falcone killing. When he failed to stop Santino Di Matteo "singing" and revealing details of the Falcone killing, Brusca resorted to kidnapping and later strangling Di Matteo's 11 year old son Giuseppe.

The other Brusca strategy was a new, terrorist style Mafia action which saw the celebrated Uffizzi Galleries, in Florence, and the Vicariato, at San Giovanni, Rome, bombed in the summer of 1993. Brusca and his friends also came close to assassinating Maurizio Costanzo, a well known television presenter and anti Mafia campaigner. A planned explosion outside Rome's Olympic Stadium just before a Sunday soccer match failed only because of a faulty timer on the car bomb.

This week, some optimistic judges in Palermo have been were referring to Brusca as "the last of the Corleonesi". However, even as Palermo's chief mafia investigator, Giancarlo Caselli, was reminding people that the fight against the all too entrenched Mafia was still very long and difficult, a more sinister reminder of Sicilian realities came from Brusca's stronghold of San Guiseppe Jato.

Two days after Brusca's arrest, a banner bearing the images of judges Falcone and Borsellino and which had been hung up outside the town hall in San Guiseppe by way of celebration was mysteriously burnt.

Giovanni Brusca still has his friends.