Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (2024)

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (1)

Workers make preparations at the Swabian Castle of Brindisi, Il Castello Svevo di Brindisi, a venue to be used for dinner during the G7 summit, in Brindisi, Italy, on June 4, 2024.

Rome CNN

The groups were showing worrying signs of trouble, according to the Italian Interior Ministry’s half-yearly report released in January 2024.

Around the same time Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced that the G7 leaders’ meeting would be held in the southern Italian region of Puglia as part of her country’s presidency of the economic organization, local anti-mafia investigators were homing in on three mafia-style criminal groups alleged to be behind an uptick of violence there.

The prevalence of criminality recorded “reflects the dynamism of criminal balances and structures marked not only by conflicts between opposing clans but also by inter-clan friction,” the report said.

The groups are offshoots of the Sacra Corona criminal syndicate, centered around the city of Foggia and made up of crime families who group together in clans.

Unlike the better-known Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Naples and the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, which have a large international footprint, the Puglia groups work largely within Italy and the Balkans, according to DIGOS (Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali), Italy’s top anti-terrorism and anti-mafia unit.

Based in and around the coastal cities of Bari and Brindisi – essentially exactly where world’s most powerful leaders will be meeting between June 13 and 15 – the groups had been knocking off foes in brazen daylight attacks and carrying out armed car-jackings at an alarming rate.

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (2)

The town of Fasano and surrounding countryside, near the luxury resort of Borgo Egnazia, the venue of the G7 summit, on June 4, 2024.

There have been several high-profile vendetta murders among the clans in recent months, according to local media reports, and several maimings, including knee-cappings.

That’s not all. A briefcase was found abandoned at a train station near Bari connected to bottles of liquid and a cellphone in March. Since then, almost daily bomb threats have been received.

There have also been armed raids by criminal gangs on villas close to the summit venue – an exclusive resort between Bari and Brindisi – and blatant gangland violence between the three clans, local police chief Vittorio Pisani told CNN.

The Interior Ministry suggested deploying the military to wrestle back control of the region “for the good of the country.” The report led to an investigation of several local town councils, three of which were dissolved by the regional governor because of mafia infiltration and the use of extortion to keep control of the territory by the criminal groups.

Italian mafia groups are notorious for infiltrating legitimate projects, including construction projects, of which there have been many to prepare the venues for the upcoming summit. Roadworks, the construction of helicopter pads for the leaders to safely move around, and even the media center have been investigated, according to DIGOS. A full report is expected after the summit ends, a spokesperson for DIGOS told CNN.

Days before the G7 starts, local authorities face a delicate challenge as they seek to balance the security of world leaders with maintaining local public order, according to the prefect for Brindisi, Luigi Carnevale.

“No one could have predicted that leading up to the G7, scheduled from 13 to 15 June, Puglia, where the meetings between the world’s powerful leaders will be held, would be affected by criminal events which, although not connected to each other, make the management of security even more complex,” he said at a televised news conference.

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (3)

A view of Borgo Egnazia, in Puglia, where the G7 summit will be held from June 13 to 15, taken on May 26, 2014 in Savelletri, Brindisi, Italy.

Puglia, at the heel of Italy’s boot, is known for its ancient olive trees, white conical “trullo” houses, and pristine beaches. The summit will be held in the luxury resort of Borgo Egnazia, a tourist haven of 30 private villas with private swimming pools and amenities like a Michelin-starred restaurantcatering to the elite.

From David and Victoria Beckham to Madonna and Ivanka Trump, celebrities have been coming for years, thanks to the guarantee of discretion provided by the resort head Aldo Melpignano, who told CNN that the location was ideal for the G7.

“Hosting the 2024 G7 in Puglia represents an extraordinary recognition for our territory, and is the result of profitable collaboration between the public and private sectors,” he said.

The security machine that will protect the world’s leaders of the world’s most advanced economies is well established, and headed by DIGOS. Preventive “clean- up work” has been underway for almost a year, with particular attention paid to deterring the establishment of “possible Islamic sleeper cells” by monitoring arrivals by at airports and seaports, the Interior Ministry report said.

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (4)

Workers at the attendee accreditation point for the G7 summit in Fasano, Italy, on Wednesday June 5, 2024.

A 10-kilometer (six-mile) “red zone” has been created around Borgo Egnazia, and a further 30-kilometer “yellow zone” will be strictly patrolled to protect the estimated 130 working groups and 21 ministerial meetings, not to mention ensuring the safety of special guests like Pope Francis, who will attend a special summit on artificial intelligence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud are also expected to join the leaders of the G7 nations - the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Japan.

More than 5,000 specially trained soldiers have been deployed to the region, massive cruise ships are moored offshore to help keep delegations safe, and a US aircraft carrier was expected to arrive by the weekend and anchor off the Puglia coast.

The Schengen open border policy that allows people to enter Italy from other Schengen Area nations has been suspended between June 5 and 18 to allow border control agents to check passports. In addition to the local crime gangs, authorities are also concerned about the hordes of protesters who show up at every G7 summit, and have called for large-scale protests to be held as close to the summit venue as possible. When Italy hosted what was then the G8 summit in 2001, a protester was killed by police during violent clashes.

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (5)

A general view of Borgo Egnazi on July 22, 2020 in Savelletri, Italy.

Specialized military police working with the anti-mafia law enforcement unit are keeping a close watch on known criminal groups. Nearly 60 people were arrested last month in connection with a drug investigation, taking some of the alleged clan leaders out of circulation, at least in the short term.

“It is clear that none of these events will in the slightest put at risk the world’s greats, who will be super protected and unapproachable in those three days,” said Pisani, the Puglia police chief.

“But it is necessary to ensure the same tranquility to the approximately 10,000 people who will move between Bari and Brindisi that week (delegations, journalists, observers) and who will not enjoy the protection of bodyguards and security services.”

At the same time, police must ensure they protect areas elsewhere in the province where “crime could creep in” while attention is focused on Bari, he added.

“It will not be an easy task because the world’s spotlight will be on Puglia,” Pisani said. “And we cannot afford to convey the image of a region in which the mafia, terrorism and common crime have taken over.”

Mafia-style violence is on the rise in the same Italian region where G7 leaders are meeting | CNN (2024)
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