The police in Italy have arrested 19 suspected members of a Nigerian mob known as MAFITES over cult-related operations.
Those arrested were identified as members and leaders of the clan, which reportedly punished anyone who rebelled against its operations.
The police made the arrests in an operation called “Burning Flame,” coordinated in the Italian cities of Bologna and Turin.
Over 300 officers reportedly carried out arrests and searches in nine cities across northern Italy from Bergamo to Modena, Parma and Ravenna.
In a statement on Thursday, the police said the two-year probe was aided by a man on the inside who fed details to investigators.
It said the details provided “has allowed us to destroy much of what, within the Nigerian community, is known as the ‘Maphite’ cult.”
According to the police, MAPHITE is an acronym which means Maximum Academic Performance Highly Intellectuals Train Executioner.
The top mobsters are said to be known in gang lingo as the main chief, deputy don, checker (the treasurer) and fire — who is in charge of giving orders, while an executive committee carries them out.
Members have to follow strict rules of conduct laid out in their “Green bible”, kept safe by the leader.
The commandments of the Green Bible included the ‘Mario Monti’ norm on recycling money to countries of origin, according to the police.
“New members are initiated following precise rituals, and treason is met with corporal or lethal punishment,” police said.
The rituals included new members being first beaten then asked to swear allegiance while holding burning paper, using the words “if I reveal our secrets, this fire will burn me and all I own”, Italian media reported, citing investigators.
Four subsets within the Maphite were identified: the “Vatican Family”, in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, the “Latin Family” in the northwest, the “Rome Family Empire” in central Italy, and the “Light House of Sicily Family” in the islands, they said.
“Maphite maintains close ties to Nigeria, so that those who cross it fear retaliation not just in Italy but there too,” police said.
Paolo Borgna, deputy prosecutor in Turin, said the foreign mafias “are born and develop by giving protection to their countrymen and developing a kind of parallel, ruthless and criminal justice”.
“It is a characteristic shared by all mafias: protection is offered, compensation is requested, protection is imposed and, finally, those who do not accept it are punished,” he told journalists at a press conference.
He said Maphite had a common fund which the newly-affiliated paid into when they joined.
“Among those arrested were those who held a leading role within the criminal organisation,” the statement read.
“Those who decided on the new initiations, who ran the prostitution rings, who dominated by force the other criminal organisations, who ran the drug trade in the city squares.”
Describing the mob’s mode of operation, the police said the group used “urban guerrilla warfare which continued for days at a time” to maintain territorial control.
It said the alleged cult group was just one of a series of foreign organised crime groups which had adopted Italian mafia codes.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, commended the police for the crackdown.
“We don’t need this type of immigration. Ports closed, jails open,” he tweeted.