updated 8/16/2007 6:15:12 PM ET 2007-08-16T22:15:12

German and Italian investigators on Thursday studied whether one of six Italian men shot to death in a German city was targeted in reprisal for his suspected involvement in the Christmas Day slaying of a mob boss’s wife in southern Italy.

The six men were killed early Wednesday after they left an Italian restaurant in Duisburg. The shootings are believed to be the latest bloodshed in a long-running feud between two organized crime clans in Italy’s Calabria region.

Two victims had been identified as members of one of the clans, the Pelle-Romeo families, but it was not clear whether the others were as well, Duisburg police said.

Though police were investigating other possibilities, the killings probably were linked to the Pelle-Romeo clan’s feud with the Nirta-Strangio clan, authorities said.

“At the current point in the investigation the most likely motive is a rekindled feud between two criminal family clans from San Luca in the Calabria region,” the police statement said.

Expert: A chapter in violent feud
The clans are believed to be part of the ’ndrangheta, a crime syndicate involved in drug smuggling and other illicit activities around the world and now considered by Italian officials to be more dangerous than the Sicilian Mafia.

Four investigators from Calabria arrived in Duisburg to assist German police working on the massacre, which Italian officials have said was the first time the ’ndrangheta had taken a vendetta outside Italy.

The Pelle-Romeo clan has had a presence in the Duisberg area for about 20 years and the Nirta-Strangio clan also known has members in the city, but there has been no known violence between the two clans in Germany, police said.

Police in Calabria said the slayings were the latest chapter in a violent feud that broke out in 1991, after members of one ’ndrangheta clan threw eggs at members of another during Carnival celebrations. The feud has now seen 15 killings, counting those Wednesday.

The dispute cooled between 2000 and 2006, but broke out again when the wife of a presumed head of the Nirta-Strangio clan, Maria Strangio, was killed on Christmas Day, said Luciano Rindona, police commissioner of the area where the feud began.

Likely hypothesis
The Italian news agency ANSA said Italian investigators were looking into the theory that one Duisberg victim, Marco Marmo, 25, was thought by the Nirta-Strangio families to have been involved in the Christmas killing and was the main target in Duisburg.

An anti-Mafia investigator in Rome, Carmelo Petralia, said the hypothesis was likely but he could not confirm the identity of any presumed targets. “We think that one of the victims was also involved in the earlier murder,” he told The Associated Press.

Petralia added that investigators also were looking at other possible motives, such as disputes involving money or other conflicts in ’ndrangheta drug trafficking or extortion rackets.

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