In a crackdown following the seizure of a top Mafia boss, Italian officials arrested 45 suspects including clan leaders.
Many top bosses like Bernardo Provenzano have been in hiding for decades
Italy announced a new blow against the Sicilian Mafia with 45 arrests this week including 16 alleged clan leaders, two months after the man said to be the network's top boss was seized in a major coup.
Announcing the latest arrests, a jubilant Piero Grasso, the state attorney leading Italy's anti-Mafia campaign, said: "Cosa Nostra is down on its knees."
Grasso told the Italian news agency Ansa the investigation had uncovered evidence "linking Mafia cells with businessmen and politicians," including a list of candidates in recent elections which the crime group considered reliable.
The suspects were captured during a dawn raid by 500 armed officers searching the Mediterranean island. First reports said 52 had been captured, including 13 clan bosses, but later statements revised the figures.
Some still at-large
Seven further suspects for whom warrants were issued in Palermo were still at large late Tuesday as a large-scale operation codenamed "Gotha" continued a long-term campaign to smash the Mafia's organized crime network.
The 52 arrest warrants issued by anti-Mafia investigative magistrates carried charges of extortion and participating in Mafia-linked associations.
Tuesday's haul included 16 alleged clan chiefs each said to have held sway over his own sector of Palermo.
About 500 armed officers stormed the island
They included Antonino Rotolo, 60, Francesco Bonura, 64, and Antonino Cina, 61, whose arrests are considered particularly significant because of their allegedly lead role in running Mafia operations.
Top boss nabbed
The arrests follow the capture this spring of the organization's top boss, a breakthrough for Italian police. Bernardo Provenzano, 73, alleged to have been the man at the very pinnacle of the Sicilian Mafia empire, was arrested on April 11 after 43 years on the run.
"The capture of Provenzano and all that arose from it gives us a significant advantage for the future of Sicily and its democratic life," said Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato Tuesday.
"We haven't yet won the war, there's still a lot to do," he said. "The struggle against the Mafia continues to be a priority for our country."
Modern technology led to arrests
Grasso said the latest operation was the result of a probe which had enabled police to "piece together the current organizational chart of Palermo's Mafia association."
Investigators relied on numerous secretly recorded conversations between suspects that took place inside a garage in Palermo used as a meeting place. Also used as evidence were documents, later decoded, found among Provenzano's personal things.
Mafia Boss Bernardo Provenzano was captured in April
"Thanks to modern technology, it was possible to record an impressive number of conversations" that shed light on the structure and organization of the Palermo Mafia's leadership, Grasso said.
Palermo's anti-Mafia unit now has hundreds of hours of intercepted conversation that took place over two years, all recorded in the little hideaway in which the alleged crime bosses "openly and calmly discussed their criminal business."
Having installed a scrambling device, they thought their conversations were protected from police eavesdropping.
Meanwhile Salvatore Cuffaro, centre-right President of Sicily Region re-elected last month, was interviewed by prosecutors for the second time in a trial in which he is accused of engaging in activities favoring Cosa Nostra.