Italian police secure mafia arrests across Europe

Carabinieri officer (file picture) The latest police raids targeted a clan of the 'Ndrangheta - said to be the biggest cocaine smugglers in Europe

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Italian police have secured the arrest of several members of a mafia clan across Europe.

The agents had been working from information given to them by a woman who had at one time been held as a virtual prisoner by the clan.

Sixteen clan members were held in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, accused of smuggling cocaine across Europe.

The clan was based in Rosarno in the far south of Italy, a stronghold of the criminal 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

The 'Ndrangheta gangs are hard for the police to penetrate because they are based on extremely tight-knit family units, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

But in this case someone who knew the clan intimately was ready to talk, our correspondent adds.

In 2005, one of the members of the Cacciola clan committed suicide, after which his widow was forced to live with her mafiosi in-laws.

She described herself as being forced to endure almost slave-like conditions but managed to get a message out appealing for help, and was rescued in a police raid.

Police say they have been using the information she provided in various ways over several years.

In June, Pope Francis condemned the mafia's "adoration of evil" at a mass in Calabria, the southern Italian base of the 'Ndrangheta.

Days later, the Catholic bishop of a small diocese in southern Italy suspended all church processions after a parade took a detour to salute a mafia boss who was under house arrest.

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