The Italian police on Monday arrested perhaps the country’s most wanted fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro, a mafia boss who had eluded the authorities for three decades and was convicted in absentia of murder and other crimes.
Mr. Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested in a hospital in Palermo, in his native Sicily, where he was undergoing treatment, Pasquale Angelosanto, a general with the Italian national police, said in a statement.
The Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, congratulated the police and prosecutors for the arrest of the “most significant representative of mafia syndicates,” calling it a “great victory for the state that shows it never gives up in the face of the mafia.”
President Sergio Mattarella of Italy, whose brother, Piersanti Mattarella, was murdered by the mafia in 1980 while serving as Sicily’s governor, phoned the police and prosecutors on Monday to congratulate them on the arrest.
Mr. Messina Denaro was considered the heir to Salvatore Riina, the “boss of bosses” who was responsible for a series of brutal killings of Italian prosecutors and police officers in the 1990s. Mr. Riina was captured in 1993, also in Palermo, and spent the rest of his life in prison. He died in 2017.
Mr. Messina Denaro is believed to have maintained power even while in hiding. He was sentenced to a life term in absentia for his role in the 1992 murders of two anti-mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and bombings in 1993 in Florence, Milan and Rome that left 10 people dead.
Prosecutors say that he was also involved in the 1993 kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, to pressure his father to stop revealing mafia secrets to the authorities. The boy’s remains were later found dissolved in acid.
Mr. Messina Denaro is thought to have been involved in dozens of murders in the 1990s, including the strangulation of a pregnant woman whose partner was seen as a threat to his clan, and had been killed days earlier.
The police had tried several times to apprehend Mr. Messina Denaro after he went underground in June 1993, but a network of collaborators in Sicily, especially in the western Trapani region, helped him evade arrest.
Video footage of Mr. Messina Denaro’s detention showed bystanders outside the private clinic in northern Palermo applauding police officers, their faces obscured by hoods, as he was taken away by car.