Italian police raids mafia stronghold in Palermo, 17 arrested

ROME, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Italian police carried out a major anti-mafia operation in Sicily's capital city Palermo on Wednesday, arresting 17 people on mafia association, drug trafficking and extortion charges.

The raid was launched at dawn by the local anti-mafia investigative directorate (DIA) in a vast zone of Palermo called ZEN, which is one of the city's most destitute districts and a renowned stronghold for the Sicilian crime syndicate called Cosa Nostra.

Guido Spina, 49, a mafia boss allegedly leading cocaine and hashish trafficking in Palermo western areas, was among those arrested, DIA investigators highlighted.

The man was arrested in his heavily-fortified villa, which would work as a logistical base where the drug was cut, prepared, stored and sold, according to police. Investigators described the house as a "wholesale and retail drug supermarket."

"The activities of drug dealing were run at a family level, and all members were involved in the various stages of the traffic," Palermo deputy prosecutor Teresa Principato explained in a press conference.

"Entire families in the district still live on drug dealing, in spite of constant police raids and seizures," the magistrate added.

Despite being under house arrest for health reasons, Spina reportedly ruled the ZEN district on behalf of a leading local clan called Di Lorenzo-Natale and presided over their illegal activities.

"Spina supervised drug trafficking, illegal betting and collection of related revenues and blackmail money within the entire ZEN territory in the clan's interests," investigators wrote in their report.

Anti-mafia prosecutors and police officers were able to bug Spina's fortified house and gather evidence against him. Contribution crucial to the probe also came from three mafia turncoats, who gave a detailed account of the balance of power within the clan ruling the ZEN district, police added.

The wife and two children of the boss were among those arrested, while five of the 17 arrest warrants were issued against people already in jail.

An unspecified quantity of drugs was seized during the operation. As Italian anti-mafia law requires in these cases, prosecutors also ordered the seizure of all real estate and financial assets belonging to the Spina family and his closest partners.