Top police officials gather to head off explosive yakuza war

Kyodo, AFP-Jiji

Top officials from the National Police Agency’s organized crime divisions nationwide gathered Tuesday for an emergency meeting in Tokyo in a bid to head off a potentially explosive conflict between the country’s biggest crime syndicate and a splinter group.

The meeting came a day after the NPA declared the Ya­ma­gu­chi-gu­mi and the breakaway Kobe Ya­ma­gu­chi-gu­mi to be “in a state of war.”

The agency also set up a special task force to deal with the conflict following a spate of violent incidents pitting the groups against each other since their Aug. 27 split.

NPA Commissioner General Ma­sa­hi­to Ka­ne­ta­ka called on the division chiefs to pay particular attention to protecting citizens in bustling urban areas and along school routes.

“With the conflict expected to escalate in the future, we should aim to weaken it in one fell swoop,” Ka­ne­ta­ka said.

A total of 49 violent incidents across 20 prefectures have been linked to the conflict since last year. The police have made a series of raids and arrests over the incidents. These have included cases of gunfire, Molotov cocktails being thrown and cars being crashed into offices and homes of top gang members, according to the NPA.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, based in Kobe, has been rocked by internal strife since late last year following the defection of several top leaders who formed the rival group.

The split in Japan’s biggest ya­ku­za organization has prompted police warnings of a possible repeat of the gangland bloodbath that raged in the 1980s.

Two bullets were found Sunday inside an office loyal to the recently formed renegade group in Mi­to, Iba­ra­ki Prefecture, a police spokesman said Monday. Three bullet holes were also visible on a wall, but no one was injured.

The incident came after police arrested a 40-year-old gangster on suspicion that a truck he drove careened into a vehicle parked in front of the office on Saturday.

“We are strengthening security and closely monitoring further developments,” he said.

A dozen similar cases allegedly involving the internecine strife have been reported since late February.

In Toyama Prefecture, a member belonging to the splinter group was arrested last week on suspicion of injuring a rival Ya­ma­gu­chi-gu­mi gangster.

“Residents are very worried,” police officer Ken­i­chi Ta­na­ka said as 10 police vehicles cruised around an elementary school near a gang office with which the suspect is affiliated. “We are remaining doggedly vigilant to protect them.”