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A gang leader and two others were arrested Monday on suspicion of murdering another yakuza boss in police custody at Nippon Medical School Hospital in Tokyo in February 2002, police officials said.

The suspects were identified as Osamu Yano, 54, leader of a yakuza group tied to the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate; Masao Tatsuriki, 54, head of a subgroup in Yano’s organization; and Kumio Arai, 56, an acquaintance of Tatsuriki.

Yano and Tatsuriki have earlier been indicted on a separate charge of conspiring to commit arson, while Arai is currently in prison for violating the Employment Security Law.

The victim, Takashi Ishizuka, 54, headed another group affiliated with Sumiyoshi-kai. Police suspect the shooting signals infighting within Sumiyoshi-kai, according to sources.

Ishizuka was killed on the morning of Feb. 25, 2002, by an assailant who fired several bullets at him through a window as he was bed-ridden in an intensive care unit at the hospital.

Police believe that Tatsuriki fired the shots, while Yano and Arai were key accomplices, the sources said.

While Tatsuriki and Yano deny the charges, Arai has told police that he ditched a handgun used in the shooting in the Arakawa River in Saitama Prefecture, they said. Investigators found a gun at the place specified by Arai.

Ishizuka received treatment at the hospital for two days after being shot in the leg by an unidentified attacker on a street in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward. When he was killed, two police officers were standing guard in the corridor near the ICU unit.

Investigators have found that Ishizuka was involved in a failed attack at the house of a former gang leader affiliated with Inagawa-kai, a major rival criminal organization in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture.

Police suspect that Yano and the others killed Ishizuka to silence him about the failed attack, the sources said.

Police believe that the February 2002 case was linked to a series of deadly battles between Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, which they think was triggered by the fatal shooting of a senior Sumiyoshi-kai leader by Inagawa-kai at a funeral house in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward in August 2001. They believe that infighting within the Sumiyoshi-kai gang ensued.

Restaurant killings

KANAZAWA, Ishikawa Pref. (Kyodo) Two gangsters were stabbed to death Sunday night in a fight that erupted in a family restaurant in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, police said Monday.

Killed in the brawl were Masayuki Takada, 27, and Tetsuyasu Saeki, 23, members of the Sakabayashi-gumi, an affiliate of major crime syndicate Yamaguchi-gumi, police said.

The roughly 20 other people in the restaurant were unharmed, police said.

The police are investigating the case as murder resulting from gang warfare.