Russian mafia boss shot dead in central Moscow

One of Russia's biggest mafia bosses was shot dead today in the centre of Moscow, in an apparent contract killing as he was leaving a restaurant after lunch, the interior ministry said.

Aslan Usoyan, 75, known by his nickname of "Grandpa Hassan", was killed by a shot from a sniper's rifle as he was exiting the Karetny Dvor restaurant, about 1.5 kilometres from the Kremlin

Some observers feared that the murder of Usoyan would unleash a turf war in the criminal world of Russia and former Soviet republics.

The sniper shot Usoyan once, and the victim was rushed to the hospital, but died on the way, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Investigators have launched a murder probe, with Usoyan's "criminal activities" as one of the possible explanations for the murder, it said.

Born in Soviet Georgia in the 1930s, Usoyan was one of the remaining mafia old guard and was considered the most influential criminal in the former Soviet Union. He was first convicted when he was 19.

Investigators today said the sniper also wounded a female bystander who was being treated.

Usoyan had already survived an assassination bid in September 2010 when he was shot in the abdomen in central Moscow, and temporarily handed over business to his two nephews, according to reports.

The tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in a report on its website dubbed him the "king of the Russian mafia".

Investigators never arrested the would-be assassin behind the previous attack, also a sniper who was hiding on the third floor of a nearby apartment building.

A security source told Interfax that the two shootings were linked. Previously, police sources suspected that Usoyan was targeted by a rival crime boss Tariel Oniani over land, real estate, and leadership roles in the criminal world.

In a sign of Usoyan's colossal influence despite his increasing age, a parliament deputy expressed fear that his murder might trigger unprecedented turf wars and more violence.

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