Italian police have launched a major sweep for 163 suspected members of the 'ndrangheta mafia. Arrests were made in Calabria, its southern homeland, as well as Italy's northern region of Emilia-Romagna.
Italy's national anti-mafia prosecutor, Franco Roberti, described Wednesday's arrests as "historic" for the juristic battle against 'ndrangheta and its expanded operations.
More than 40 arrests were made in southern Calabria, but the bulk of them, 117, took place in towns and cities across northern Italy, most in the region of Emilia Romagna.
In recent years the 'ndrangheta has taken control of Europe's cocaine trade, overtaking the Sicilian and Neapolitan mafias, and has made inroads into Latin America and the United States.
Roberti described the group as a "deeply implanted and very dangerous criminal organization."
"It is an impressive and decisive step against the mafia in the north," he said.
Arrests made by thousands of police
Thousands of police were involved in the arrest operation codenamed "Aemilia" on Wednesday, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Bologna's chief prosecutor, Roberto Alfonso, said at a press conference that those arrested in the north included six alleged bosses of a semi-autonomous clan.
The suspects faced charges of extortion, usury, participation in mafia organizations and illegal possession of weapons.
Last week, Italian police made 31 arrests in connection with an alleged plot by an offshoot of the 'ndrangheta to take control of the cocaine trade.
Links with Colombia and Morocco
The bosses of a 'ndrangheta offshoot were reported to have lived in Rome for years, and to have established links with cocaine producers in Colombia and smuggling operators in Morocco.
In the course of last week's Rome raids, police seized some 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of cocaine, hashish and a stash of firearms.
Police said those arrests stemmed from inquiries into the 2013 murder of Roman mobster Vincenzo Femia and secret video recordings of induction ceremonies.
The name 'ndrangheta comes from Greek for courage or loyalty.
ipj/sms (dpa, AFP)