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Gildas LE ROUX

Shadow looms over captured mobster's home town

Police block access to a house used by mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro as one of his hideouts in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. ©AFP

Castelvetrano (Italy) (AFP) - Killer mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro may have been captured this week after 30 years on the run, but his shadow still looms large over his Sicilian hometown.

While some in Castelvetrano are relieved the barbarous 60-year-old is finally behind bars, many in the Cosa Nostra heartland where he grew up refuse to speak about him.

Since the arrest of Messina Denaro on Monday, passers-by in the town of nearly 30,000 people in Sicily's southwest have hidden under umbrellas or walked faster to avoid the swarms of journalists from Italy and beyond.

"We don't like to talk much in this town," muttered one old man, before he slipped away.

Messina Denaro, who was caught in Palermo while seeking cancer treatment, is considered the last of the old guard of Cosa Nostra -- Sicily's infamous mafia -- with his power extending across the island's west.

Michele, a 39-year-old architect out with his wife and baby, agreed to speak to AFP on condition his surname was not used.

"We are very happy.What should have happened a long time ago has finally happened," he said.

But he added: "Now it's us who have to change, the whole city, because we could have already started to change before this arrest".

Mayor Enzo Alfano said his town longed to clean up its reputation and "free itself from this leaden blanket that has stifled so many of the inhabitants".

Castelvetrano dreams of being known "for what it is: a beautiful city with an archaeological park", he said.

Nearby Selinunte, an ancient Greek settlement, boasts sumptuous temples looking out to sea.

But Alfano sounded a note of caution.

"A page has certainly been turned, but we can in no way say that the Mafia has been defeated," Alfano told AFP.

"We must not lower our guard".


While Castelvetrano features a picturesque historic centre, the outskirts are an eyesore.

Potholed roads are lined with half-built buildings while piles of rubbish litter the countryside.

The city's coffers, once under state control due to mafia infiltration, are bare.

Alfano is pinning his hopes on tourism.

He also wants answers: how did Messina Denaro manage to stay hidden for so long?Who was helping him?

The same questions plague 23-year-old anti-mafia activist Marta Capaccioni, as she stands outside the hideout of the boss, which police discovered earlier this week.

The small, non-descript apartment is in Campobello di Mazzara, some 15 minutes drive from Castelvetrano.

Wrapped up against the cold in a burgundy jacket and scarf, Capaccioni called it "shameful" that the fugitive had been able to live quietly in his home territory.

Messina Denaro, now behind bars on mainland Italy, has so far refused to talk to investigators.

But Capaccioni said the state had to do everything it could to get him to talk, because he is "a top Cosa Nostra boss who knows a lot of secrets".

She said he could tell police about his role in the murder of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, slain in car bombings in 1992 for which the mobster has been convicted.

Messina Denaro might be able to shed some light on rumoured secret deals between the state and the organised crime organisation, Capaccioni said.

"This would open so many Pandora's boxes about our country and the political parties that collaborated with the mafia," she said.

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