Rome — The relief of ordinary folk in the Sicilian town of Catania is audible following the arrest Tuesday of several Mafia suspects. ''They should have done it earlier,'' said a homemaker. ''They would have saved a few lives.''
''Today Catania has lived a historic day. It's the defeat of the Mafia,'' said an optimistic citizen.
But so far, comments such as these have come only from the street. Police spokesmen and city authorities seem to be holding their own counsel for the time being.
Italian magistrates, in their continuing battle against the Mafia, issued about 400 arrest warrants in the northern Italian city of Turin early Tuesday.
Chief prosecutor Francesco Scardulla and a team of 10 magistrates have been working in Turin for the last year to try to crack the grip of Mafia rule there.
''I can't conceal that the names and the titles of those who are indicted have caused us a great shock,'' Mr. Scardulla told journalists after the warrants were issued.
The police said that 97 people had been arrested and that 103 warrants were issued against people now in jail. In Catania alone, 56 people were arrested.
The biggest surprise was Pietro Perracchio, the president of the Court of Assizes in Catania. Another high-ranking suspect was Rocco Vitale, president of the Appeals Court. Both judges are charged with corruption and criminal association in Mafia circles.
Other suspects were sought in Turin, Rome, and the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria.
The Turin magistrates were helped in their inquiries by the confessions of Salvatore Parisi, a Mafia killer arrested Sept. 27. The day after his arrest, Mr. Parisi told police he was responsible for 16 unsolved murders in the Mafia underworld in Catania and Turin. He told of some 30 more, some of them crimes unknown to the police. For several years the clan dei Catanesi has dominated the Turin underworld, controlling racketeering, prostitution, drug trafficking, and protection money.
Tuesday's arrests indicate the suspects were helped both in judicial and police circles. Also arrested was Col. Serafino Licata, once a Catania-based commander in the carabinieri , and recently transferred to Rome. Francesco Gilardoni, well-known penal lawyer, was also arrested.
The charges on all 400 warrants, says magistrate Scardulla, cover the gamut of Mafia-type crimes, including murder, kidnapping, extortion, and corruption.
The painstaking work of the magistrates has also uncovered a network of trafficking in drugs and money between the two cities at opposite ends of Italy.