Europe

Italy police decipher coded 'Mafia initiation text'

A coded message believe to contain the details of a secretive, mafia initiation process.
Image caption The script is said to be part of an oath-taking process

Police in Italy say they have deciphered a mysterious coded text that appears to reveal the details of a secretive mafia initiation process.

It was apparently written in a special alphabet devised by members of the 'Ndrangheta, a crime network based in the Calabria region of southern Italy.

The document was found during an investigation into a high-profile murder in Rome in January last year.

The 'Ndrangheta are said to be the biggest cocaine smugglers in Europe.

Rich in symbolism

"Finding such a document shows that even if they are projected towards big businesses and are a criminal group with a global presence, they still use archaic systems," said Renato Cortese, head of the police rapid response team in Rome.

The script is said to be part of the oath-taking process used when new members join a mafiosi clan known as the "San Luca".

"Its content is basically the formula that a person must recite to become part of the 'Ndrangheta," Mr Cortese said.

It was the first time such a document had been found in Rome, he added.

Three sheets of note paper, that carried a hand-written message, were discovered alongside weapons and ammunition.

Two policemen with a passion for crosswords spent weeks cracking the code, says the BBC's Rome correspondent Alan Johnston.

The letters looked like a mix of Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese-type script, he says.

The document sheds a little light on the quasi-mystical aura that the mafiosi like to create when they take in new recruits, our correspondent adds.

The translated text is said to be rich in symbolism, and describes how to recognise a mafioso - a so-called "Man of Honour" - by the signs around him.

The 'Ndrangheta is now reckoned to be Italy's most powerful mafia, having overtaken Sicily's Cosa Nostra. The network operates across Europe and has connections with Colombian drug cartels.

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