The Italian authorities further closed in on Matteo Messina Denaro on Thursday, detaining 22 people suspected of being part of a network linked to the fugitive Cosa Nostra boss. Those arrested included Messina Denaro's two brothers-in-law, sources said.
They are suspected members of Mafia families in Castelvetrano, Campobello di Mazara and Partanna in the area of the Sicilian city of Trapani.
They are accused of crimes including mafia association, extortion, criminal damage and illegal possession of arms. The probe made it possible to identify a system used for the sorting of pizzini notes for Mafia communications.
Investigators believe Messina Denaro and his relatives had a lead role.
Bosses arrested Thursday likened Messina Denaro to Padre Pio and said he had spent some of his time on the run in Calabria, where the Cosa Nostra's younger and now more powerful cousin 'Ndrangheta holds sway. Thursday's operation followed a similar one a month ago as prosecutors said they were continuing to "drain the pool Messina Denaro swims in".
On March 18 over 100 officers served arrest warrants for 12 people considered to have links with Messina Denaro.
The suspects are accused of mafia association and extortion, among other felonies.
The operation was related to a probe that started in 2014 into the Vita and Salemi families, who are suspected of helping the fugitive mobster.
Prosecutors said the Messina Denaro faction managed to get its hands on vast sums of money once handled by the late and notorious Mafia-linked tax-collector cousins Nino and Ignazio Salvo.
As well as helping to support Messina Denaro's life as a fugitive, much of this money was ploughed into the wind-farm business, prosecutors said.
Messina Denaro, 55, has been on the run since 1993 and is considered a candidate to be Cosa Nostra's boss of bosses following the deaths of Bernardo Provenzano in 2016 and Salvatore Riina in 2017.
He is on Europol's list of Europe's most wanted fugitives.
He has not been seen in public in over 20 years.
An informant in 2014 helped authorities update their facial composite of him.