Slayings of 6 Italians in German city called 'unprecedented'
Int. Herald Tribune
By Mark Landler and Ian Fisher
August 16, 2007
FRANKFURT: The slayings of members of two rival southern Italian crime families has stunned the sooty industrial city of Duisburg in northern Germany, a place that has long attracted Italian immigrants, who came by the thousands after World War II to work in the city's factories and steel mills.
The bitter blood feud erupted on the streets of Duisburg early Wednesday morning, as police found the bodies of five Italian men in two parked cars.
A sixth victim died as he was being taken to a hospital. The police said that the victims, ages 16 to 39, had all been shot in the head outside an Italian pizzeria near Duisburg's train station.
Giuliano Amato, the Italian interior minister, said that the killings appeared to stem from rivalry between two families that belong to 'Ndrangheta, a mob organization from the Italian region of Calabria. The Italian authorities now regard 'Ndrangheta as a more sinister threat than the Mafia in Sicily.
Amato told reporters in Rome that one of the victims may have been involved in an earlier killing. He warned of an escalating mob war, saying that officials would need to be attentive that there was "not a third act in Calabria."
Luigi de Sena, the Italian deputy police director, told the ANSA news agency that the slayings were an "unprecedented settling of scores" because they "took place in a foreign country for the first time."
But crime experts in Germany said that 'Ndrangheta had been active in the country for many years, in part because of its large Italian immigrant population. As more and more families from Calabria put down roots in the Ruhr Valley, criminal elements followed the legitimate "guest workers."
Until now, though, the group had kept a low profile.
"The police basically ignored them," said Andreas Ulrich, a reporter at the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, who has published a book about the 'Ndrangheta in Germany. "This kind of criminality works in closed national circles."
There are 530,000 Italian immigrants in Germany, the second-largest group after Turkish immigrants, and they are generally viewed as better integrated into German society than the Turks.
The German police said the six men killed Wednesday were from San Luca, a small town in eastern Calabria, a rugged, poor province that forms the toe of the Italian Peninsula. Two of the victims were brothers.
On Tuesday night, the police said, the men celebrated the 18th birthday of one of the victims at the Da Bruno pizzeria, where all six either worked or had an ownership interest. At 2:30 a.m., a woman walking near the train station heard gunshots and flagged down a police car.
The police said that they were looking for two men who had been seen running from the scene near the time of the shootings. They are also examining footage from surveillance cameras.
The details are murky, but the feud between the Strangio-Nirta family and the Pell-Romeo clan dates back to 1991, when someone threw either firecrackers or eggs at a festival, according to Italian news reports. In the ensuing mayhem, two members of the Strangio-Nirta family were killed.
The cycle of violence ebbed and flowed, but it flared up again this month when a man named Antonio Giorgi, 56, was shot and killed outside his house in the town of Benestare. The Italian authorities suspect that one of the victims had been marked by the Pelle-Romeo family, possibly as a reprisal for that killing.
This person "probably expected something to happen, and it seems that he may have been looking for arms to defend himself," said Amato, the interior minister. "But it is possible he was reached by those who wanted to take vengeance on him before he faced justice."
The export of mob violence outside Italy may signal a change for 'Ndrangheta, a confederation of families thought to have come into existence around the time of Italian unification, in 1871. The name is often translated, from Greek, as "virtue," and it refers to the 100 or so families involved.
While 'Ndrangheta has historically been less hierarchical than the Sicilian Mafia, bound by family ties rather than rules, the killings on Wednesday may mark an attempt by one family to achieve dominance, making it more top-down, said Aldo Pecora, head of Ammazzateci Tutti, an anti-mob organization whose name means "kill us all."
Pecora said that the scale of the killing also seemed to demonstrate, to rival families, to the authorities and to people in Calabria, the family's will to use violence to achieve its ends.
The group reportedly earns tens of billions of dollars each year, largely from narcotics smuggled from Latin America, but also from extortion and smuggling.
Ian Fisher reported from Rome. Peter Kiefer contributed reporting from Rome.