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Top Italian mafia fugitive found in 'home bunker'

Published 05/10/2016

Antonio Pelle escaped from hospital in 2011 (AP)
Antonio Pelle escaped from hospital in 2011 (AP)

One of Italy's most-wanted mafia bosses has been arrested after five years on the run when police found him hiding in a home bunker built between the bathroom and his son's bedroom.

Antonio Pelle, 54, crawled out of his hiding place at his home in southern Reggio Calabria, with video footage showing at least two dozen police waiting for him to emerge.

Pelle, known as "Mamma", was serving a 20-year prison sentence for mafia association, arms and drug trafficking when he slipped out of a hospital in the town of Locri in September 2011.

He had been taken to the hospital to be treated for anorexia, Italian news reports said.

Pelle, who was on the Italian interior ministry's list of most dangerous mob fugitives, is considered the boss of the Pelle-Romeo clan of San Luca, in Italy's southern Calabria region.

The clan's long-running feud with the rival Nirta-Strangio family erupted in a bloody vendetta in Germany in 2007, when a gangland massacre at an Italian restaurant left six people dead.

The carnage drew international attention to the reach of Calabria's 'ndrangheta mob, which is considered more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia and has become one of the world's biggest cocaine traffickers.

The Reggio Calabria police chief, Raffaele Grassi, said Pelle was the last of the "strategic protagonists" of the long-running San Luca feud.

"With his capture and the trials under way, each piece of the mosaic has been put in place," Mr Grassi said.

The San Luca feud cooled between 2000 and 2006, but erupted again when Maria Strangio, the wife of one of the presumed heads of the Strangio clan, was killed on December 25 2006.

The retaliatory massacre in Duisburg, Germany, marked the first known time the 'ndrangheta exported a vendetta.

AP

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