A BOMB attack in Sicily robbed Italy of its second leading anti-Mafia investigator in two months, prompting fears that an increasingly violent mob is extending its grip.
Magistrate Paolo Borsellino was killed by a car bomb as he left an apartment building after visiting his mother late Sunday afternoon. Five police escort officers also died and at least 20 others were injured by the blast.
Police decided at an impromptu meeting that as of yesterday they could no longer guarantee that they will escort other anti-Mafia figures until the state can properly protect them.
Italian troops will be sent to guard jails in Sicily where convicted mobsters are held, the ANSA news agency reported. Senior officials also sent 300 police and paramilitary police to the island as reinforcements.
The measures coincided with signs of unrest among the 400 policemen who act as bodyguards for top civil servants and politicians in the Sicilian capital. About 200 helmeted soldiers with rifles were deployed outside the maximum-security Ucciardone jail at dawn after inmates staged a protests overnight, officials said.
Sicilian union leaders called for a general strike on the island today, when Mr. Borsellino's funeral will be held, to demand stronger action against the Mafia. In Rome, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said Pope John Paul II yesterday morning called the assassination "an insult to Italy."
"We're looking at a very clear strategy by the Mafia to kill, one by one, inexorably, all those who have understood and accumulated knowledge about the Mafia," said Pino Arlacchi, a noted sociologist who studies the Mafia.
Mr. Arlacchi said only a strong "counterattack" by the state could thwart what he called the Mafia's determination to kill those who put its members behind bars and to stop prosecutors from pressing new cases. "To continue to just defend ourselves won't do anything," he said.
In early June, the Cabinet approved measures giving more protection to mobsters who turn state's evidence and making it harder for suspected Mafiosi to remain free while under investigation. But the Cabinet decree expires in several weeks unless Parliament converts it into law.
"Judge Borsellino confided to a friend a couple of days ago that he was fighting against time," Premier Giuliano Amato said Sunday night. "He feared that the decree could expire."
Among those who rushed to the bomb site was former Palermo investigator Giuseppe Ayala, a member of Parliament. The Mafia "is saying, `We hit who we want, when we want,"' he said.
Borsellino had inherited the mantle of Judge Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia hero slain May 23 on a highway outside Palermo by a bomb believed planted by the Mafia. Judge Falcone's wife and three policemen were also killed.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that its offices received two phone calls Sunday from someone claiming to speak for the "Falange Armata," a right-wing terrorist group not considered very active. Police discounted a similar claim of responsibility for Falcone's death.
Borsellino and Falcone were members of a group of activist magistrates in Palermo whose efforts in the 1980s put hundreds of mobsters behind bars. They were dubbed the "computer" and the "memory" of an ambitious, long-term investigation aimed at cracking the Sicilian Mafia.
Falcone headed the investigation that led to the 1987 convictions of 338 mobsters for crimes ranging from assassination to drug trafficking. The two men provided key help in the United States "Pizza Connection" trial of drug traffickers.