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Gang conflict claims two more lives in Vancouver

A pair of dark SUVs tracked a silver Mercedes-Benz C350 through the streets, then bracketed it in a left turn lane at Granville Street and 70th Avenue. At 2:15 a.m. yesterday, with the busy intersection almost vacant, a shooter got out of one of the SUVs and fired repeatedly through the passenger window of the trapped sports sedan.

When Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Doug LePard looked through the shattered window of the Mercedes that morning, he saw a scene that has become numbingly familiar in a city wracked by violence - the bullet-riddled bodies of two young men.

It was the latest hit in a wave of gang killings sweeping Greater Vancouver, and it went down with chilling precision leaving two dead and bringing the body count in recent weeks to 10.

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Police responded with a plea to gang members to rethink their lifestyle and a warning that gangs are now the police department's top priority.

"I was at the scene early this morning and I would just like to give one last message to those who think that the gang lifestyle is appealing," Deputy Chief LePard said at a news conference.

"Looking at those two young men in their car this morning, full of bullet holes, they didn't look glamorous at all."

"So those who think that the gang lifestyle is for them, I think that they need to think about what the odds are of ending up like those two young men this morning," Deputy Chief added.

Dead in the car were Ronal Shakeel Raj, 31, of Surrey, who was driving, and Ali Abhari, 25, of Kelowna.

Both were known to police, and they have become the latest statistics in a dramatic string of shootings that two days earlier left Raymond Huang, 51, dead in front of his Shaughnessy mansion, just an eight-minute drive from the latest homicide scene.

Mr. Raj's wife, Neha Sehgal-Raj, said that she knew something was wrong yesterday when she recognized her husband's car and licence plate on the morning news. She had spoken to him just moments before, when he had told her he was on his way home.

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"I wished I wasn't seeing that and I was hoping it wasn't him," she told The Globe and Mail last night, surrounded by family and friends at her Port Moody home. "And I was hoping that he would just come through the door and just be like, 'somebody else was driving my car.' "

But it was him, and Ms. Sehgal-Raj, 24, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, was trying to come to terms with having to raise her baby without a father.

She described Mr. Raj, who owned a truck and worked for ACE Career, as a family man, who was just days away from opening his own construction company. She said the news media has portrayed him as someone he wasn't.

"He's very hard working, he's not always partying and being flashy and spending thousands of dollars. He's nothing like that. He'll spend on his family, take care of his family," she said, adding he adored his two younger sisters and brother.

"Yeah, he has friends, and he may be friends with people who, you know, have that lifestyle. But I don't think he should be judged upon that."

Other killings have taken place in busy Vancouver restaurants and, in one shocking incident in nearby Surrey, six men - including two innocent passersby - were killed in a condominium.

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The heads of police departments throughout the Lower Mainland were meeting yesterday to come up with a united gang front, and Deputy Chief Bob Rich said the Vancouver department is forming a special task force that will be going after gang members wherever they can be found.

"The task force will be very much an in-your-face style of task force. It will be confronting people who are gangsters who are moving about our streets. We'll be checking on where they live ... and letting them know that these activities are just not acceptable," Deputy Chief Rich said.

Although the recent killings were gang-on-gang violence, police realize more innocent people could die if the shootings continue.

"We ... want the public to know that even though the majority of these shootings are gang-related, we are not minimizing the threat that this poses to the public. The public needs to know that we are going to take every step to ensure their safety," Deputy Chief Rich said.

Deputy Chief LePard said several gangs appear to be shooting each other over various disputes and perhaps in retaliation for other killings. But he dismissed the idea of one gang fighting another for control of territory.

"I would not use the term gang war," he said. "What I would say is that there clearly is a conflict between two or more gangs that's occurring right now, and it seems that it's all too common that the way they settle disputes, and even seemingly minor disputes, is with violence and gunplay.

Some news reports have linked Mr. Huang to the Big Circle Gang, a Chinese-organized crime syndicate, but Deputy Chief LePard said he was unaware of any such connection.

"There are a number of gangs involved in this that you have probably heard of. One gang that is certainly involved and has been involved in some violent incidents is the UN Gang," he said.

With a report from Unnati Gandhi

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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