Living on the Mafia hit list - a journalist's tale

ROME (Reuters) - Lirio Abbate has an unwelcome distinction among Italian journalists: correspondent in Sicily for the state news agency Ansa and La Stampa newspaper, he has had his own armed police escort for the past six months.

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When anti-Mafia investigators using wiretaps heard mobsters discussing how to silence 37-year-old Abbate in revenge for his news reports and book about their illegal activities, police decided to give him and his wife a police escort.

Last month two men were disturbed while trying to put a bomb under his car in Palermo. A few days ago, wiretaps on a jailed Mafia godfather relayed fresh talk about how to silence pesky Sicilian journalists, in particular Ansa’s newsroom in Palermo.

A married father of two, Abbate has decided to remain in his native Sicily despite figuring prominently on the Mafia hit list.

“If I left after they put a bomb under my car, I would be setting a bad example to other Sicilians,” he told Reuters on a visit to Rome, accompanied by his police escort.

“This way I am showing that I am not afraid, that the state is protecting me, and that I will carry on.”

At least a dozen journalists in Italy live under threat from organized crime -- in Sicily, in Naples where the Camorra holds sway and in Calabria, home to the powerful ‘Ndrangheta.

Neapolitan author Roberto Saviano, who wrote the best-seller “Gomorra” about the Camorra, also lives with an armed police bodyguard after receiving threats.

Abbate knows he has good reason to be afraid.

“They have killed eight journalists in Sicily since the 1970s. When the Mafia has problems with journalists, they kill them,” he said. “But now the police in Sicily are much more effective than they used to be.”

Abbate angered the Mafia with a book published this year called “The Accomplices” about links between politicians and “boss of bosses” Bernardo Provenzano -- jailed in 2006 after 43 years on the run.

He believes that right now the mob has more to gain from “sowing fear and intimidation” than murdering him.

“If there were a massacre in Sicily, the place would fill up with investigators and there would be lots of media attention. And the Mafia likes to keep things quiet so that they can get on with business,” he said. “Business is very good at the moment.”