Russia: Mafia 'Godfather' Shot Dead By Sniper

Russia: Mafia 'Godfather' Shot Dead By Sniper

One of Russia's biggest mafia bosses has been shot dead in an apparent contract killing that has sparked fears of bloody turf wars.

Aslan Usoyan - known as 'Grandpa Hassan' - was killed by a single shot to his head from a sniper's rifle as he left the Karetny Dvor restaurant, near the Kremlin in Moscow.

The 75-year-old was rushed to hospital but died on the way, Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The committee said a murder investigation has been launched into the shooting - and cited Usoyan's "criminal activities" as a possible explanation.

It is believed the killing is part of a war between two gangs over lucrative construction projects - including some for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Police said a female bystander was also wounded in the shooting and is being treated in hospital.

Six 9mm bullet casings were found on a stairwell between the fifth and sixth floors of a building across the street from where Usoyan was hit.

Russian media said police had surrounded the hospital morgue where Usoyan's body was being held, fearing "provocations".

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

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, who sits on Russia' security committee, wrote on his Twitter feed: "I am sure that a new criminal redistribution will begin now."

Usoyan earned the underworld title of 'vor v zakone' - or thief in law - meaning a criminal godfather.

A Yezidi Kurd born in Soviet Georgia in the 1930s, he 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, with most of his many subsequent convictions for weapons and drug possession offences.

Jailed for 15 years in 1984 for selling counterfeit gold coins, he was released in 1991 amid the chaos of the late Soviet perestroika reform.

His clan was reportedly one of the most powerful in the region by the mid 1990s, operating several casinos in Moscow and eventually controlling the crime scene of south Russia.

The tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda dubbed him the "king of the Russian mafia".

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