Reuters International

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian court has jailed three members of a Nigerian crime gang in Palermo, Sicily, sentencing them to at least a decade in prison each for crimes including attempted murder.

Prosecutors said the trio brought to Palermo the practices of the "Black Axe" cult, which Nigerian police said carried out ritual murders, mutilation and rape in the early 1990s.

In Sicily, they used mafia techniques in carrying out attempted murder, armed robbery, bodily harm, extortion and drug-dealing, and answered to Italy's most storied mafia organisation, the Cosa Nostra, as if they were its subjects, prosecutors said.

The court's verdict, reached on Wednesday and made available on Friday, handed down sentences of 12 years and four months to the gang's boss and just over 10 years each to two others.

The group is believed to have attacked two people with bottles and axes late one night in January 2014 in Palermo's Ballaro street market, where police later found the victims with gashed foreheads.

The Black Axe was among several secret societies that took hold in Nigerian universities in the 1990s, allegedly attacking people on campus with guns and knives, raping women who refused to pay protection money and engaging in blood-drinking rituals.

(Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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