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Gangster murdered in Marseille's 19th fatal shooting this year

The scene of the shooting of the son of José Anigo, Olympic Marseille sport director, in 2013
The scene of the shooting of the son of José Anigo, Olympic Marseille sport director, in 2013 Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

A well-known Marseille gangster was murdered in a deserted street on Monday night, the latest in a series of gangland slayings in a city sometimes labelled France's "capital of crime".

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Alain Armato, 56, was shot dead in a street on a crime-ridden housing estate at about 11.30 on Monday night - the 19th fatal shooting in the Marseille region this year.

There were no witnesses to the killing and an ambulance did not arrive until several minutes after the shots were fired.

Police say that "perhaps two men on a moped" carried it out, "very precisely", hitting the victim several times and leaving 11 9mm cartridges behind.

Jailbreak by helicopter

Armato, who was born in Algeria, was an "old-time hoodlum" well-known to police, first coming to their attention at the age of 21 for pimping.

He was active in Marseille's notorious criminal "milieu", which "is likely to have made him a number of enemies", according to police sources, but was apparently not involved in the city's flourishing drugs trade.

In 2011 he was jailed for nine years for organising a jail break by his friend Pascal Payet, a robber accused of murder who was known as the "king of escapes", by helicopter, the pilot having been taken hostage by four accomplices.

Gang warfare

There have been over 20 slayings in gangland turf wars in and around Marseille every year for much of this century - and 1,286 murders over the last 20 years - and this year looks set to have an above average total.

Some recent murders have been carried out by Kalashnikov assault rifles, which have appeared on some of the city's rundown esates as they have become centres of the drugs trade.

That trade, mainly in cannabis, is not controlled by old-school gangsters like Armato but by younger men, raised in the neighbourhoods.

French connection

The highly profitable cannabis trade has taken over dominance of the city's crime scene from the previous gangsterism based on prostitution, slot machines and, in the past, heroin smuggling.

That was the basis of the "French connection" - the subject of William Friedkin's classic 1971 film - that ran the traffic between Turkey and the US from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Often controlled by immigrants from Italy or the French Mediterranean island of Corsica and led by men with colourful nicknames like Francis the Belgian and Gilbert the Lebanese, the old-style gangs went back to the end of the 19th century and experienced their golden age in the mid-20th century.

Some collaborated with the Germans during World War II, while others worked with the resistance, establishing links with local politicians and what was to become the CIA, which were used to break a historic dockers' strike that was holding up the drugs as well as legitimate trade in 1950.

The Marseille gangs' partners in the US were the notorious gangsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky but their business went into decline when the source of America's heroin shifted from Turkey, which banned opium under US pressure, to the Golden Triangle in wartorn south-east Asia before later moving to Afghanistan.

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