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Anti-Mafia Investigator Killed in Highway Bombing

May 23, 1992

PALERMO, Sicily (AP) _ An explosion blamed on the Mafia killed Italy’s leading anti-Mafia crusader, his wife and at least three others as they drove on a crowded highway outside Palermo Saturday, police said.

The assassination of Giovanni Falcone was the most sensational Mafia hit in in 10 years and shocked the political establishment in Italy, which is without a permanent head of state or premier for the first time since World War II.

The blast injured at least nine people, police said. It pulverized 400- yards of two-lane highway, twisting guard rails and covering the carcasses of cars with rubble.

″Institutions in crisis themselves become the biggest encouragement for criminal attacks ... . We must react before lack of trust drags down everything,″ former Premier Bettino Craxi said after hearing of Falcone’s murder, the news agency ANSA reported.

Major political parties have been unable to put together a new government and the Parliament has failed to elect a president, Italy’s head of state, who designates the premier.

Before his transfer to the Justice Ministry in Rome last year, Falcone had led a corps of fellow Palermo magistrates handling the nation’s most delicate Mafia probes.

At the ministry, Falcone handled policy regarding prison inmates, including Mafia figures who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He was hailed nationwide for his courage and was considered the leading expert on the Mafia.

″The man who symbolized for the world Italy’s fight against the Mafia is dead,″ the RAI television network announced.

Falcone’s wife, Francesca, who was a judge in Palermo, died after surgery about four hours after the attack, said an official at Civico Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Palermo police spokeswoman, Nicoletta Cuccia, said three of Falcone’s police escorts were killed.

The news agency ANSA earlier had reported two other deaths but later backed away from the report. The RAI television network said 20 people were injured, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed. Two of the injured were Austrian tourists, ANSA said.

An unidentified telephone caller claimed responsibility for the blast in the name of a right-wing terrorist group, the Falange Armata, but police discounted the claim and blamed the Mafia.

Falcone had just flown in from Rome to Palermo and was heading towards the city, where he kept a home.

ANSA quoted Palermo prosecutor Pietro Giammanco as saying four cars - Falcone’s and three escort vehicles - were blown up by tons of explosives planted under an overpass, about 15 miles outside Palermo.

Falcone’s wife was sitting next to her husband, who was driving his armor- protected car.

Falcone headed the investigation that led to the 1986 trial of 474 Mafia suspects. Hundreds were convicted of various crimes that ranged from ordering assassinations to drug-related charges.

″The thing that struck me was what an extraordinary memory this man had,″ said RAI television news director Alberto La Volpe. ″He could connect every tentacle of the Mafia, every member of a clan to one another.″

The mass trial, and the commitment of magistrates like Falcone, provided hope that the nation could defeat organized crime, which is deeply rooted in the south and is spreading to northern cities.

Local political and law enforcement officials are frequently killed by organized crime in southern Italy. The last big Mafia-blamed assassination was the gunning down of Gen. Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa and his wife on a Palermo street in 1982. Dalla Chiesa was the state’s special Mafia fighter.

Falcone’s fame and the mass trial grew out of Falcone’s investigation of the Dalla Chiesa murder.

Falcone had a close call in 1989. Police discovered a bomb apparently meant for him on a sunbathing platform near Falcone’s seaside villa outside Palermo.

Update hourly