Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Japanese police raid offices to end growing gang war

RIPPLE EFFECT The murder of a gang boss on Monday brought to an end a yearlong hiatus in violence, prompting three more shootings

AP , TOKYO

Police moved yesterday to ward off a swelling turf war between Japan's two largest underworld gangs, sending dozens of investigators to raid the offices of one of the groups believed to be behind the violence.

Ending a yearlong hiatus in gang violence, the 43-year-old boss of a gang affiliated with the Tokyo-based Sumiyoshi-kai syndicate was shot to death on Monday.

The killing is believed to have prompted three more shootings this week at gangland headquarters in Tokyo.

The murderer still remains at large. No other injuries have been reported.

Hoping to keep the violence from escalating, police on Wednesday arrested two members of a gang that belongs to the Sumiyoshi-kai syndicate.

The two are suspected of firing shots into the front door of an office used by the rival Yamaguchi-gumi.

About 40 officers, many in full body armor, also raided the offices of the Sumiyoshi-kai affiliate yesterday.

Police refuse to comment on the motive for the shootings, but shooting into the doors or windows of a rival gang's offices are the hallmark of underworld retaliation in Japan.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, which with 21,000 members is the largest in Japan, and 8,000-strong Sumiyoshi-kai have frequently been involved in turf wars in recent years.

Police say the strife has been generated by the Yamaguchi-gumi's rapid expansion of its operations in Tokyo, the Sumiyoshi-kai's traditional base.

The Yamaguchi-gumi is based not in Tokyo but in the port city of Kobe.

The high-profile violence has alarmed residents of Tokyo, where shootings are rare, and police have moved quickly to quell it.

Like gangsters in other parts of the world, Japan's are involved in extortion, gambling, the sex industry, gunrunning, drug trafficking, real estate and construction kickback schemes.

Despite the recent respite in violence, crackdowns on gangsters -- known as yakuza, which means roughly "good for nothing," have had limited results.

The number of gangsters nationwide -- including criminal "freelancers" who aren't formal gang members but are loosely allied with the groups -- has grown to about 84,500, down slightly from two years ago but up considerably from the 61,000 or so in 1991, according to police figures. The majority belong to the Yamaguchi-gumi gang.

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