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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

6 Italians Killed in Germany in a Mafia-Linked Shooting

DUISBURG, Germany -- Six Italian men were shot dead in the German city of Duisburg early Wednesday in an execution-style killing linked to a mafia feud.

Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said the shootings appeared to be the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between mafia clans in the southern region of Calabria, home to the N'Drangheta organized crime group.

German police in the run-down northwestern city said their investigation was "leading in that direction."

The shootings took place close to an Italian restaurant called Da Bruno, a police spokesman said. The victims, all shot in the head, were aged 16 to 39.

Police found the six in, or lying next to, two vehicles near the city's train station after a passerby heard shots at about 2:30 a.m. Five were already dead and the sixth died on the way to hospital.

Investigators said the brazen attack in a foreign country was unprecedented, and they feared an equally bloody riposte by relatives of the victims, in keeping with the tradition of vendetta.

"We are now trying to prevent a similar tragedy [in Calabria]," Amato told a news conference.

The victims were all Calabrese and belonged to one of two rival clans based in the town of San Luca.

Their simmering feud began in 1991 and has escalated in the past eight months. Overall, 15 people have been killed.

The N'Drangheta has outgrown its more famous Sicilian counterpart, the Cosa Nostra, thanks to clan loyalties ensured by blood relationships and arranged marriages, and is now the leading criminal group for drug trafficking.

"This was an attack to assert power. It is not just the clan that comes out stronger, it is the N'Drangheta as a whole," said Alberto Cisterna, a top mafia national prosecutor.

"It shows a strength, a capacity to intimidate that is very worrying."

Italian investigators, who are working with German police on the case, said the N'Drangheta was well established in Germany.

Italians are Germany's second biggest immigrant group after Turks. Many from the poor south came to Germany as "guest workers" after World War II.