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Reputed Mob Boss Usoyan Shot Dead

One of the country's purportedly most influential crime bosses was killed by a sniper in broad daylight Wednesday, police said, prompting fears of a return of 1990s-style gang wars in the capital.

Aslan Usoyan, better known as Grandpa ("Ded") Khasan, was hit in the head by a single bullet around 2:30 p.m. when he exited a restaurant in downtown Moscow, Interfax reported, quoting law enforcement officials. The 75-year-old died shortly after at a hospital without regaining conscience.

The killer, who fled, fired from a building opposite the crime scene on Povarskaya Ulitsa, the Investigative Committee said on its website. It added that officers found six bullet cartridges in a stairwell between the fifth and the sixth floors of the building.

Two of the shots injured a female passer-by, who was being treated at a hospital in critical condition Wednesday night. She had been hit in the chest and hip, the tabloid website Life News reported. It identified the woman as 30-year-old Maryat Bikchurina.

Usoyan had for years been presumed to be locked in a feud with rival mobster Tariel Oniani. In 2010, Usoyan was hospitalized after being shot by an assailant outside an apartment on Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Oniani is serving a 10-year prison sentence for kidnapping after being detained in 2009 outside Moscow. He denied involvement in the 2010 attempt on Usoyan's life.

Usoyan had reportedly been allied with reputed fellow mobster Vyacheslav Ivankov, who died after being wounded in a similar sniper attack in 2009.

The three mobsters were thought to be among the last senior representatives of the so-called thieves-in-law, a Soviet-era fraternity of convicts that maintains strict codes and rites and disdains any institution other than its own.

Both Oniani and Usoyan hail from Georgia. But while Oniani is from the mountainous Svaneti region, Usoyan grew up in a family of Yezidi Kurds in the capital, Tbilisi.

National media outlets reported that he was well aware that his life was in danger. Usoyan lived in a Moscow region settlement closed to outsiders, avoided public places, traveled in armored cars and employed former police officers as bodyguards.

The address of Wednesday's shooting, 55 Povarskaya Ulitsa, hosts a range of upscale restaurants and is just a stone's throw away from the New Zealand Embassy and the German ambassador's residence.

In 2008, the reputed founder of the Lazanskaya crime group, Movladi Atlangeriyev, was attacked and abducted there.

The murder raised fears of a new round of bloody gangland feuding. A law enforcement source told Interfax that the killing reflects an intensification of conflicts between major criminal groups. The portal reported that pro- and anti-Usoyan clans had been preparing for war throughout December.

However, Alexander Mikhailov, a veteran police and security services officer, said the killing might mark the end rather than the beginning of the redrawing of criminal fiefdoms.

In an interview with Interfax, he pointed out that no gangland warfare had broken out after the last attempt on Usoyan's life.

"Overall, the situation is under control," he was quoted as saying.

Irina Yarovaya, head of the State Duma's Security Committee, said the murder does not mean a return to 1990s-style chaos.

"Today we have a different country, different laws and a different order," she told Interfax.

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