Rome: A Mafia turncoat has revealed that Sicily's Cosa Nostra was a pioneer in the use of killer drones, testing bomb-loaded remote-controlled aircraft in the early 1990s.
Two decades before the US began using Reaper drones to strike terrorist targets in the Middle East, mobsters in Palermo were testing ways to kill rivals from the sky, Gaspare Spatuzza, a former Mafioso, told a court on Wednesday. Spatuzza said he was ordered by one of the Graviano brothers - two Palermo bosses in the 1990s - to buy and test radio-controlled aircraft with explosives attached.
"Graviano ordered me to buy a radio-controlled aircraft," he said. "He said others had already bought them and we needed to carry out tests for transforming them into flying bombs by loading them with explosives."
Spatuzza said he had spent around €500 ($A700) on the aircraft. "I carried out some tests," he said. "We needed to learn how to pilot it and steer it towards targets, loading it with a modest amount of explosives." He did not say if the aircraft was used in an attack.
The claims mark the first time a Sicilian mobster has revealed Cosa Nostra's aim of using remote-controlled aircraft for murder.
In 1992, Sicily's criminal organisation packed half a ton of explosives underneath the motorway linking Palermo with its airport, detonating it by remote control as Giovanni Falcone, an anti-Mafia magistrate, drove past. The blast, which registered on local earthquake sensors, killed Mr Falcone, his wife and three police officers.
Before the attack, mobsters carefully tested how to time explosions to hit moving cars and tested their arsenal on a concrete structure.
Weeks later, the Mafia detonated a car bomb in Palermo, killing Mr Falcone's fellow magistrate, Paolo Borsellino.
The following year, as the Italian government clamped down on Cosa Nostra, the Graviano brothers and Spatuzza were involved in a series of bomb attacks on the Italian mainland, including a 1993 car bomb attack in Florence which destroyed paintings in the Uffizi Gallery.
Spatuzza, who was arrested in 1997 before deciding to give evidence against the Mafia, was speaking at a new trial connected to Mr Borsellino's murder.
He has been convicted of 40 murders, but claims to have found God while in prison, pushing him to give evidence against former fellow criminals.