Italian police backed by helicopters carried out a major anti-mafia operation in Sicily and Tuscany.  Almost 100 people were arrested in one of the largest operations of its kind in recent years. 

Italian police have carried out a major anti-mafia operation, arresting scores of people.  They said those taken into custody were mobsters suspected of trying to rebuild the top ranks of the Sicilian Mafia.

Palermo's head prosecutor Francesco Messineo said the operation was of great importance because it stopped a criminal plan to reconstitute the mafia's leadership.

The so-called Perseus operation was conducted in cities in Sicily and parts of Tuscany in northern Italy.  The morning raids involved more than 1,200 police officers and helicopters.

The alleged mobsters are being pursued on charges of mafia association, extortion, drugs and arms trafficking.

Investigations as part of the Perseus operation had been on-going for nine months and involved significant wiretaps.

Messineo says it gave police the possibility of listening to the live voices and intentions of members of the mafia.

Those arrested are suspected of attempting to recreate the mafia's commission, the body responsible for making the most important decisions.

Investigators say the plan was the brainchild of mobster Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the most powerful godfathers on the run.

Police investigators say Messina Denaro is a top candidate to head the commission and replace boss-of-bosses Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006.  The mafia's hierarchy has been in disarray since Provenzano's arrest.