Russia's 'top gangster' Grandpa Khasan shot dead

Police cars parked near the spot in Moscow where Aslan Usoyan was shot dead, 16 January Usoyan was shot dead on a street a short walk from the Kremlin

A man said to have been Russia's top gangster has been shot dead leaving a restaurant in the centre of Moscow, reportedly by a sniper.

Aslan Usoyan, widely known as Grandpa Khasan, died in hospital after being brought there by his bodyguards, Russian media report.

A woman, said to be a restaurant employee, was injured in the leg.

Usoyan, 75, survived two previous assassination attempts in 1998 and 2010, when he was seriously injured.

According to a Financial Times report into organised crime from December 2011, he was "reckoned to be the highest-ranking mafia boss in Russia".

Born in Soviet Georgia in 1937, he received his first prison sentence in 1957 for resisting arrest and, during his third in the 1960s, became a "thief in law", a Russian term comparable to a Mafia "godfather".

His killing sparked fears of a turf war between organised crime groups. Russian MP Alexander Khinshtein, who sits on the State Duma's security committee, wrote on Twitter: "I am sure that a new criminal redistribution will begin now."

'Single bullet'

Usoyan was killed by a single bullet, Russia's federal Investigative Committee (SK) said on its website, announcing that an investigation had been opened.

Possible motives for the crime, it said, included his (unspecified) criminal activities.

Early Russian media reports suggested Usoyan had been shot in the stomach but a grainy photo of his body in a morgue has emerged, which suggests he was hit in the face. The morgue is under police guard.

Russian media say the attack appears to have been the work of a professional killer, who opened fire as Usoyan left the restaurant early on Wednesday afternoon.

The gunman was lying in wait in a building opposite the restaurant on Povarskaya Street, about a mile (1.6km) from the Kremlin, Russian news agencies report.

Six bullet cases were found on a staircase between the fourth and fifth floors of the building, along with a folding chair and a piece of cloth, SK spokesman Sergei Stukalov told Interfax news agency.

While no gun was reportedly recovered, an unnamed security source told Interfax the killer appears to have used a Val assault rifle fitted with a silencer - a weapon favoured by Russian special forces.

After news of the attack, Usoyan's nickname became a top trending name among Russian users of Twitter.

"Russia's missing its gangsters," one blogger tweeted. "Romance."

"End of an era," wrote another.

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