Those arrested are suspected members of the San Lorenzo and Resuttana mafia clans in Sicily and are accused of mafia association, extortion and shifting stolen goods.

Among those arrested is a female mobster allegedly at the helm of the Resuttana clan, one of the most powerful clans within Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia.

The 49-year-old woman in question, Maria Angela Di Trapani, is the daughter of a fugitive mobster and the wife of well-known mafia boss Salvino Madonia.

Her husband is serving a life sentence for the murder of anti-mafia businessman Libero Grassi, who was gunned down in 1991.

Ms Di Trapani is suspected of being the mastermind behind a reshuffle of the Sicilian mafia following the recent death of the “boss of bosses”, Totò Riina.

The suspected “godmother” has already spent seven years in prison for having passed the orders of her husband from behind bars to the clan on the outside, and was released in 2015. 

“Once released, she immediately returned to Cosa Nostra and took up a decisive role,” prosecutor Salvo De Luca told a press conference.

Riina, who was nicknamed “The Beast” because of his brutality, died last month and his presumed heir Matteo Messina Denaro is on the run, while other potential successors are serving time.

Police said jailed bosses had appointed Ms Di Trapani to head up the Madonia clan and tasked her with liaising with other clans on the relaunch of Cosa Nostra following Riina’s death.

It’s becoming increasingly common in Italy for women to lead mafia clans, as they step in to replace husbands and sons who are either behind bars or dead.

More than 60 women accused of mafia association are detained in Italian prisons, according to the Italian ministry of justice, and almost all of them are believed to have held leadership positions in the clans.