How Italy’s car-bombed judges shaped fight against mafia

“It was war and we all felt called up. No-one could afford to look away any longer,” says Marzia Sabella

“It was war and we all felt called up. No-one could afford to look away any longer,” says Marzia Sabella, remembering the assassination of anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone 30 years ago.

Falcone was killed with his wife and bodyguards in a car bombing in Sicily on May 23, 1992, in one of Italy’s most infamous murders.

It also inspired a new generation of anti-mafia crusaders who, decades on, risk their own lives daily to carry on Falcone and Borsellino’s fight.

“I have never regretted it,” said Sabella, who would go on to be the sole female prosecutor in the investigative team which in 2006 captured mafioso Bernardo Provenzano — nicknamed “The Tractor” for the way he mowed down enemies.

The judges were closely associated with revolutionizing the understanding of the mafia, working with the first informants and compiling evidence to prosecute hundreds of mobsters at the end of the 1980s in a groundbreaking Maxi Trial.

– Guarded 24/7 –

Di Bella has spent much of his career trying to save at-risk children from being drawn into Italy’s wealthy ‘Ndrangheta crime group in Calabria, considered today to be much more powerful than its Sicilian rival.

“It started at a low level, then bit by bit it increased to an armored car, and now I have the police following me everywhere I go,” says Di Bella, whose magistrate wife “has had to get used to” a home life under armed guard.

“You no longer have a private life and your freedom is seriously compromised,” Sabella said.

– Institutional distancing –

“Falcone knew he wasn’t understood. Even the failed Adduara attack on him was believed to have been staged, including by those in his circle,” Sabella said about a thwarted 1989 assassination attempt on Palermo’s coast.

Those concerns prompted a backlash this month over the failure to name Nicola Gratteri, Italy’s foremost ‘Ndrangheta combatant, as national chief anti-mafia prosecutor.

It risked creating “the conditions for isolation, the most fertile ground for murders and massacres”, he warned.

– Bodies in the streets –

Amid fears that not enough is being done, a trade union called last week for a “civilian escort” to help protect and support him.

Since then, the Cosa Nostra has been hit repeatedly by mass arrests — but though it has lost much of its power, it is far from vanquished.

Sabella compared the mafia to coronavirus: “If you drop your guard it spreads like before or worse than before.

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Originally published as How Italy’s car-bombed judges shaped fight against mafia

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