Toto Riina, a fearsome leader of the Sicilian Mafia nicknamed “The Beast”, died early yesterday in a special hospital ward for prisoners, one day after his 87th birthday.
Riina, who was serving multiple life sentences for murder, passed away at 3.37am (0237 GMT) in Parma, the northern city where he had been detained for years, the Italian news agency Ansa said.
The cause of death was not given, but Riina suffered from kidney cancer and heart and brain problems.
In July, courts turned down a request for his release from prison on health grounds.
“Riina’s end is not the end of the Sicilian Mafia, which remains an extremely dangerous criminal organisation,” the head of the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee, Rosy Bindi, said.
According to media reports from the last 24 hours, Riina had recently entered into a coma following two operations, and the justice ministry had authorised his relatives to be at his bedside.
Riina was detained in isolation, so the ministry’s decision was a special concession.
However, Riina’s family did not make it in time to see him, according to Ansa.
A spokesman for the Italian Catholic Church ruled out the possibility of a public service.
Riina led the Sicilian Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, until his arrest in Palermo in 1993, after spending 24 years as a fugitive.
Also known as “The Boss of Bosses”, he masterminded dozens of high-profile murders in the 1980s and 1990s, including those of anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He never repented or co-operated with investigators, and his death deepens a leadership crisis in Cosa Nostra, which is believed to be currently operating without an overall chief.
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