Fears are rising in Japan that a large-scale gang war could erupt, following a major schism in the yakuza organized crime syndicate. Cyber-crime might be making headlines today, but this is a reminder that "traditional" organized crime is still strong. And scary. Here's a look at what's happening in five criminal networks around the world.
JAPAN: YAKUZA DANGEROUS SPLIT
In late August, 13 out of the 72 gangs that form the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza organization, decided to form a breakaway group after their members were expelled for disloyalty towards the syndicate leader, Shinobu Tsukasa, the daily Mainichi Shinbun reports. The new gang, which according to Kyodo News will call itself the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi and continue using the same logo, will have about 3,000 members, far fewer than their former parent group, which boasts more than 23,000 members.
Authorities in Japan are afraid this split could spark violent clashes between the different gangs, as a similar breakup did in the past. In 1984, when the Ichiwa-kai gang seceded from the Yamaguchi-gumi, subsequent clashes left 25 dead, more than 70 injured and 500 arrests. Revenge by yakuza syndicate on renegades often include severed limbs.
The yakuza, which Fortunemagazine says is worth $80 billion, has largely been tolerated, seen as a way to keep petty crime low. But with the latest fractures in the group, some Japanese media outlets have been appealing for more pressure. An editiorial in the daily Asahi Shimbun, said that "society should seize the day, squeeze the yakuza."
ITALY: ROMAN MAFIA SHOW
Organized crime continues to plague Italy, from Cosa Nostra on the island of Sicily to the â€˜Ndrangheta crime syndicate in the southern region of Calabria. Lately, though, attention has shifted to the nation's capital, as a sweeping investigation has revealed an organized crime network that infiltrated a large part Rome's public administration — forcing Italy's interior ministry to take over much of the governing of the city, La Repubblica reports.
But as so often happens, real problems of violence and corruption mix with folklore and a circus-like atmosphere that captures much of the media coverage in Italy and beyond. The latest was the lavish, public funeral last month for notorious Rome mob boss Vittorio Casamonica, which included a horse-drawn coverage, flower petals dropped from a helicopter and the movie theme music from The Godfather.
Now, attention has shifted to Italian television's longest-running evening current affairs show Porta Porta ("Door to Door"), which hosted relatives of the deceased mob boss during prime time Tuesday night. Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports widespread outrage that a well-known mafia family was afforded such air time on the RAI public television network's flaghship show. "It was an offensive and shameful spectacle," the center-left Democratic Party said in a statement. In its own defense, Porta Porta noted that the show generated its best ratings in memory: 1.3 million Italians tuned in.
EL SALVADOR: MARAS MURDERS
Like most Latin American gangs, the Maras, a type of gang originally formed in the U.S. before spreading to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, are particularly known for their violence. But this year, they have been beating macabre records.
El Salvador just suffered through its deadliest summer since its return to democracy, in 1992. More than a record 900 people were murdered in August alone. The number of violent deaths since the beginning of the year has risen past 4,000, El Tiempo Latino reports. This is already more than for all of 2014 (with 3,912 murders). At the end of July, the Maras killed eight bus drivers in the capital San Salvador. As part of efforts to fight the violence, El Salvador's Supreme Court declared last month that the gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 were now considered "terrorists,"Excelsior reports.
NORTH AMERICA: BIKERS GANGS GET UGLY
Nearly 50 years after Hunter Thompson's book Hell's Angels, the California-born gang is still part of the rolling landscape, in America and beyond. But shootings this year in both the U.S. and Canada show motorcyle-riding gangs taking a dangerous turn.
On Sunday, in London, Ontario, a shooting outside a Hell's Angels-affiliated biker hangout killed a 49-year-old member of the local Gate Keepers motorcycle club, London Free Press reports. A Hell's Angels expert told the website that "there will be more violence," suggesting a possible turf war between different gangs. "If they the Hells Angels don't back that support gang, they lose face," he added. "No one will work for them if they don't back up their workers."
This follows a mass shooting in Waco, Texas involving the Bandidos and Cossaks biker clubs last May that left nine dead. Here's a feature story in the aftermath of that from the Houston Chronicle.
Earlier this month, there were fears in Nairobi of a possible return of the Mungiki, an ethnic organization, half-sect, half-gang, that has terrorized Kenya since the 1990s but has become less active in recent years. The Kenyan daily The Standard, for which "the evil schemes of Mungiki and those of terrorists are one and the same," the government needs to act fast to prevent this return, the same way it has neutralized the terrorist threat.
On Sept. 2, The Standardalso reported authorities in Kenya arrested more than 100 suspected members of the Mungiki and another gang called "Gaza." The suspects, still in police custody, insisted they are simply part of a religious group called the New Jerusalem Fellowship.
But attention was heightened last June after reports that the jihadist group al-Shabaab has been training Mungiki members to return and terrorize the population, People Daily reports.
One former Mungiki leader Ndura Waruinge, who has since become a religious pastor, launched a campaign on Aug. 9 aiming at reforming such criminals, The Nairobian reports. "As a former leader of Mungiki, I feel that if I don't help these people change their ways, I will not have done my part as per the calling I received from God when I got saved," Waruinge said.