The Italian Interior Ministry said Wednesday that the murder of six men in the western German city of Duisburg in the early hours of Wednesday morning was the product of a dispute between two rival clans of the 'ndrangheta Calabrian mafia.
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica is reporting that the Strangio-Nirta and Pelle-Romeo clans were involved. The names of the victims have been released, but it is still unclear what roles they played in the mafia clan feud.
"What happened was a qualitative leap" in the feud, Italian Deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti said at a press conference. "That this feud finds a second chapter outside of the territory in which these clans move, and beyond national borders" is unprecendented and worrisome, he said.
The six slain men, who have all been identified as Calabrese, were between the ages of 16 and 38 and had been celebrating the 18th birthday of a man identified by the ANSA news agency as Tommaso-Francesco Venturi. All of the victims either worked at the restaurant or were part-owners, the chief investigator in the case, Heinz Sprenger, said at a press conference.
Brothers Francesco and Marco Pergola, 21 and 19 years old respectively and both from Duisburg, were part-time employees at the Da Bruno restaurant. Venturi, from nearby Mülheim, had reportedly just begun his vocational training at the restaurant. Two of the men, including the 16-year-old, had just traveled to Duisburg from Italy, while the sixth victim was identified as a 25-year-old named Marco Marmo. Without providing further details, police investigator Sprenger said the victims died in a hail of bullets. "There were a whole lot of shots fired," he said.
Sprenger said some of the victims had police records, but the crimes had been misdemeanors. Police also refused to comment on reports that the restaurant had been a notorious mafia meeting point and a money-laundering operation. Families of the victims have also been put under police protection.
Meanwhile, La Repubblica is reporting that the mafia killers, who fired more than 70 shots at their victims from rapid-fire weapons, originated in Calabria.
The two enemy families reportedly come from the Italian town of San Luca, where they have waged a bloody feud since 1991, the paper wrote. Two young men, members of the Strangio-Nirta clan, were shot and two others injured after a fight between the clans at a carnival celebration turned nasty. The incident gave birth to a bloody series of retaliatory acts, which have been dubbed the "Vendetta of San Luca."
However, investigators in recent months had assumed that the feud had been settled, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Nevertheless, investigators registered five new murders and eight attempted killings in the two clans during the past eight months. Last Christmas, the wife of Mario Strangio, a presumed head of the Strangio-Nirta mafia family, was murdered, sparking the feud anew, the paper wrote.
Luigi de Sena, deputy director of the police in the Calabria region told the Italian news agency ANSA that the murders were "an unprecedented settling of scores, also because it took place in a foreign country for the first time." He added that the "presence of the Calabrian (mafia) in Germany is very strong, but until now they have always kept a low profile, trying not to attract attention." Italian authorities recently declared that 'ndrangheta is on the verge of become more powerful in the country than the Sicilian mafia.
The deadly shots were fired in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and the victims died of gunshot wounds to the head and neck. Police discovered the victims in two cars that had been parked near the city's central station. According to police spokesman Sprenger, "a few" of the victims were still alive when police arrived on the scene, but paramedics were unable to save them.
At a press conference, police also confirmed that the killings had been recorded by a security camera mounted on a neighboring building. Two men were also sighted in the area, but it is unknown whether they had any connection to the shootings. Police said they would release the first video clips of the crime publicly on Thursday. But the images will likely only show images of the perpetrators fleeing the scene.
Numerous ammunition cartridges were found at the scene and the victims themselves were also reportedly armed.
The shootings are believed to have happened just after 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning. "A pedestrian heard shots and flagged down a police car that happened to be in the area," Duisburg Police spokesman Reinhard Pape said. Officers first discovered the bodies at 2:30 a.m.
The victims were found in a VW Golf with license plates from the southern German city of Pforzheim and a small delivery truck registered in Duisburg. Police immediately sealed off the area and began investigating, but rain initially complicated efforts to collect evidence, police spokesman Hermann-Josef Helmich said. The bodies were taken earlier Wednesday to the local morgue for autopsies as Red Cross workers held up large sheets to protect the bodies from media photographers.