Italy– Cats are being used as ‘arsonists’ by the mafia who set them alight to start huge forest fires, claims a park manager death-marked by the mob.
President Giuseppe Antoci of Nebrodi, Sicily’s largest national park, spoke as firefighters extinguished hundreds of fires which broke out simultaneously across the island last week.
Mr Antoci, 48, who survived an assassination attempt by the mafia in May, claimed the crime group ‘use the animals as arsonists’, and the cats burn all the bushes that they touch, reports Corriere Della Sera.
The park director added that five hundred forest fires do not spontaneously combust all at once.
He said: ‘One of the mob’s arson techniques is to tie a petrol-soaked rag to the tail of a cat and set fire to it. As its tail burns, the cat flees in terror into the undergrowth in the woods, setting fire to everything it touches.
‘That makes it harder for investigators to figure out where the fire was started and since the cat is eventually incinerated, they never find what caused the fire,’ reports The Times.
Last week the fires ravaged the island and nearly 6,000 hectares of land went up in smoke.
Links with the outbreak to the mafia have been alleged because they are keen on using the scorched woodland, according to Alfredo Morvillo, a Sicilian magistrate who claims the mob has invested in reforestation companies.
The crime syndicate is reportedly furious with park manager Mr Antoci because he tried to stop their practice of syphoning off millions in EU framing subsides from renting out grazing land.
Around 23,000 forestry staff are employed in Sicily, and due to their large number workers have also been suspected of starting fires to make their work appear more essential.
The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, blamed the island’s forestry workers, after the fires followed the decision by Governor Rosario Crocetta to sack 180 of them this year after they were found to have convictions for mafia crimes or arson attacks.
Mr Antoci survived an ambush by the Cosa Nostra in May when they blocked his car with boulders before spraying bullets at the vehicle.
The assassination attempt failed thanks to the interventions of bodyguards who defended Mr Antoci from gunfire and two Molotov cocktails, reports news site Famiglia Cristiana.
Mr Antoci said: ‘When agents opened my door, I thought it was the assailants, I was convinced it was over and expecting the coup de grace.
‘Imagine, then, my sigh of relief and my joy when I realized that it was the policemen and (assistant chief) Manganaro.’
It was the first attempt by the mafia to kill a public official in decades.