The author of Gomorrah, the book about the Naples gang wars that was turned into a prize-winning film, could be dead by Christmas along with his bodyguards, according to a well-placed supergrass.
Roberto Saviano, the 29-year-old journalist whose novel-like chronicle of the brutal rule of the Camorra has sold more than a million copies, has been under heavy police protection for two years.
Since then, he has led the life of Salman Rushdie during the Fatwa years but with more guards, armed with more fire power, to protect him from a more tangible threat. Despite the carabinieri officers– with whom he lives, eats, boxes and travels – the Camorra appear more determined than ever to eliminate the man who has given them the international notoriety that was previously the preserve of the Sicilian Mafia.
Carmine Schiavone, a cousin of the supreme boss of the Casalesi clan, became a government informer in 1993 and has since been resettled with a new identity. But he remains discreetly in touch with former comrades, and recently passed on a chilling nugget of information: the Casalesi clan has agreed that Saviano should be killed before Christmas. "That book of his has done too much damage," was the terse justification, La Repubblica reported. Italian law enforcement officials said the reported threat involved an attack along a motorway, which if necessary would also take out Saviano's bodyguards
Saviano has become a symbol of the fight against organised crime. It was in October 2006 that the Italian government decreed that the writer be given a bodyguard after credible threats were made against his life. That was after his last public appearance in the Naples area, when he told a crowd in the piazza of Casal di Principe, the headquarters of the most feared Camorra clan: "Don't let [the gangs] destroy your right to happiness."
This week, as he marked the two-year anniversary, Saviano told a radio show that "many days are terrible", but stressed that "it's the readers who have frightened the crime bosses, not me". Police are taking the new threat very seriously, and have raised the level of Saviano's protection.
One month ago, Casalesi hitmen shot dead seven men in the Naples area, one Italian and six African immigrants. They were killed, local experts say, to impose the gangs' will on the area and send a message to the large community of illegal immigrants that they were no longer welcome. The Italian state responded with large-scale raids that resulted in numerous arrests and the seizing of mob property worth €100m (£78m). One of those arrested was Bernardino Terracciano, a cast member from the film Gomorrah, who had a bit-part as a mob leader.
Soldiers have been dispatched to the Naples area, including 500 paratroops from a Folgore ("Thunderbolt") regiment, to restore the rule of law, and free police to track down more suspects. Chief among them is Giuseppe Setola, 41, identified as the brains behind the massacre of the Africans and the man behind the recent killing of a supergrass's relative right under the noses of the army.
According to one of the wanted man's former comrades, Setola has other big ideas. "Setola said that he was trying to obtain explosive with a remote detonator," said a report in Corriere della Sera. "He didn't tell me what he wanted to do with it but he said it was an easy way to kill."
Gomorrah, now showing at cinemas in Britain, is being tipped for the foreign-language Oscar next year. The fear is that Setola could be planning a spectacular assassination attempt directed at Saviano: mining the Naples-Rome motorway with explosives just as the Sicilian Mafia mined the Palermo airport road to kill the anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone in 1992.