PALERMO, Italy, May 23—One of Italy's top anti-Mafia officials was killed today in a bomb attack on the southern island of Sicily, police said.
Judge Giovanni Falcone, who became Italy's best known anti-mobster as head of an elite pool of magistrates in Sicily, was killed by a one-ton bomb that blew up a section of a highway near Palermo's airport just as his car was passing.
Falcone, 53, died within minutes of reaching the hospital in Palermo, the island's capital. His wife, Francesca, who was traveling with him, died during surgery. Police said at least four other people were killed by the bomb, which destroyed Falcone's armor-plated car and blew apart six vehicles. Radio reports said at least 20 people were injured.
[An unidentified telephone caller claimed responsibility for the blast in the name of a right-wing terrorist group, the Falange Armata, but police discounted the claim and blamed the Mafia, the Associated Press reported.]
Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti condemned the attack, saying that "when a man like Giovanni Falcone is the victim of an attack like this, you feel a particular sense of anger and condemnation."
"He was a true servant of justice, courageous, independent, sincere," Andreotti said. "His battle against' the Mafia must continue with increased vigor."
Initial reports said the explosion left a 10-yard gap in the road about 12 miles outside Palermo and a 500-yard stretch of the highway was destroyed. A Palermo magistrate, Pietro Gianmanco, said investigators estimated that Falcone's unknown killers had used 2,200 pounds of TNT in the bomb, which apparently was placed under a small bridge.
Falcone, the Justice Ministry's director of prison affairs, was seen as one of the key symbols of the fight against organized crime in Italy, and the government was backing him to become Italy's first chief anti-Mafia prosecutor.
Falcone, a Sicilian, engineered Italy's biggest judicial assault on the Mafia five years ago in a mass trial in which 338 mobsters were sentenced to long prison terms. The crime syndicate had vowed to kill him in revenge.