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Italian police capture most wanted mafioso who ran Cosa Nostra clan, was on run for 30 years

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Photo by Italian Gendarmerie (Carabinieri) Press Service / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The 60-year-old mafia don whose criminal gang Cosa Nostra inspired "The Godfather" was captured Monday by Italian police after spending 30 years on the run. Matteo Messina Denaro was previously one of Europe's most wanted fugitives.

What is the background?

Denaro, who went by the nicknames "the devil" or "the skinny one," was the son of an influential Cosa Nostra boss, Don Ciccio. According to the Guardian, Denaro built an unlawful multibillion-euro empire in the wind energy, waste, and retail sectors.

The godfather is linked to over 50 murders, such as the bombings that claimed the lives of renowned anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino — after whom the international airport outside of Palermo was named.

These bombings also claimed the lives of Falcone's wife and the family's bodyguards. The overwhelming majority of Italians reckon Falcone to have died a hero.

Denaro was also wanted for the heinous strangling of Giuseppe Di Matteo, a former mafioso's son whose body the mobster dissolved in a vat of acid.

The New York Times noted that Denaro allegedly murdered a pregnant woman on June 15, 1992.

Denaro went on the run in June 1993. Despite having abandoned his headquarters in Trapani, he was still considered the head of the Cosa Nostra, reported the Los Angeles Times. Italy's Carabinieri (national) police indicated last year that Denaro was still giving orders.

While he allegedly managed his illicit affairs in exile and continued to profit from wind farm deals, various collaborators throughout Sicily reportedly helped the murderer evade arrest.

Prosecutors suggested that the mobster relied heavily upon a network of powerful freemasons to maintain his freedom, reported the Times.

While underground, Denaro was nevertheless tried and convicted of dozens of murders. Denaro now faces multiple life sentences.

Justice as a gift

Police caught Denaro, the last "godfather" of the Sicilian mafia, in Palermo, where he had been living under the assumed name "Andrea Bonafede."

Carabinieri police intercepted him at a private health clinic on Jan. 16, where, according to Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, the mobster had been receiving treatment at the clinic for an undisclosed medical condition.

A pair of Carabinieri officers marched the defeated and feeble mobster out of the clinic and dumped him into black van. They then took Denaro to a secret location.

Some people took to the streets to applaud the mobster's arrest:

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, "This is a great victory for the Italian state, which shows we should never surrender to the mafia."

Meloni thanked police and government forces for Denaro's arrest in the "aftermath of the anniversary of the arrest of [Salvatore] Totò Riina."

Riina, also a murderous mobster, ordered hundreds of murders, including Falcone's and Borsellino's in 1992. Riina had begged to die in his home, but succumbed to cancer behind prison bars at the age of 87 in November 2017.

Concerning Denaro's arrest, Lamberto Giannini, Italy's chief of police, said, "It is a victory for all the police forces that have worked together over these long years to bring the dangerous fugitive to justice."

Once known for his lavish lifestyle, expensive cars, and designer clothes, Denaro will likely die behind bars in his prison uniform.

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