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Breakthrough in slaying of judge is mixed triumph Battle with Mafia raises questions


ROME -- When Sicilian magistrates announced Friday that they had struck a major blow against the Mafia, the contrast between the hoopla surrounding the event and the questions that followed evoked a land that seems unsure of itself, even in victory.

For some, the magistrates' identification of suspects in the killing of Judge Giovanni Falcone, who died in a bombing in May 1992, was cause for celebration.

"This is a magical moment in Italian history," said Giovanni Tinebra, who headed the inquiry that led to the issuing of 18 arrest warrants for 18 suspects Friday.

For others, though, the announcement led only to more questions, among them: Had the Mafia acted alone in killing the nation's top gang-buster?

Judge Falcone, his wife, and three bodyguards were killed by a remote-controlled bomb as their cars traveled to Palermo. With the killing in Sicily it seemed that the mob had declared open warfare against the Italian state.

With a series of leaks and news conferences, investigators let it be known that they had identified the suspects in the killing, their chain of command, and the sequence of events that led to the killing, a seeming triumph in a land that has seen a series of unsolved slayings in its recent history.

And the legacy of that history is a sense that nothing may be what it seems.

"I continue to believe that there may have been a scenario that did not involve the Mafia alone," said Giuseppe Ayala, an opposition politician and former anti-Mafia judge. Mr. Ayala was referring to the idea that, when the killers exploded the bomb along the highway, they were not the only ones who wanted Judge Falcone dead and that, maybe, politicians or spies were also involved.

Even Mr. Tinebra, the investigator, acknowledged yesterday that "investigations are under way to ascertain whether there were people outside Cosa Nostra" who collaborated in the killing.

If there was one fundamental cause for the doubts that were voiced amid the proclamations of triumph, it was that, after 20 months of scandal that has tainted virtually every public institution, the Italians' traditional skepticism about their leaders has hardened even further.

Some 3,000 businessmen and politicians have been implicated in a billion-dollar corruption scandal; a former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, has been accused of consorting with the mob, a charge he denies; and judges in Naples and Palermo have been charged with having connections to organized crime.

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