Giovanni Falcone & Paolo Borsellino

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GANGBUSTERS: Falcone, at left, and Borsellino were both killed in bomb attacks

It is perhaps a uniquely Sicilian sort of irony that an easygoing smile shared by two old friends would come to symbolize the island's darkest hour of the past 60 years.

The parallel destiny of Palermo prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino began and ended in Sicily's capital, where the two were born — and killed in 1992 in successive Mafia bomb assassinations. In between, the pair nearly brought Cosa Nostra to its knees with a new methodical approach, as brilliant as it was brave, to unlocking the Mob's code of silence.

And so that smile shared one day on the job — captured by a photographer just months before they were killed — now hangs in nearly every Italian judicial office (and in schools and city halls across Sicily) alongside the usual portrait of the standing head of state. That apparently serene moment was taken in a brief pause amid the passion and inbuilt risk of their life's work.

Inspired by an idea of Falcone's from the early 1980s, the pair forged a strategy of rounding up scores of Mafia associates, including the small fry, as a way to chip away at the organization's foundations, while coaxing key suspects to turn state's evidence.

Their efforts culminated in a series of "maxi-trials" in a bunker-like courtroom in Palermo, which led to hundreds of convictions.