updated 11/27/2007 1:51:06 PM ET 2007-11-27T18:51:06

A reputed organized crime leader was shot to death and his driver was fatally stabbed Tuesday in a brazen attack in southern Japan, police said, even as the country moved to toughen firearms laws.

The men are thought to have been killed minutes apart on a street in Fukuoka prefecture, according to Naokazu Ikenaga, a local police official.

Residents alerted police to the attacks after witnesses heard shots being fired, Ikenaga said. Public broadcaster NHK also cited witnesses as saying they saw a knife-wielding man fleeing the scene.

Police identified the victims as Yoshikazu Matsuo, 61, an alleged leader of a local organized crime group affiliated with the nationwide Dojinkai syndicate, and Kaname Fujimura, 48, a gang member who was his driver.

The attacks come amid an apparent turf war among underground groups on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Earlier this month, a patient at a hospital in Kyushu was fatally shot in his room after being mistaken for a gang member.

They also follow moves to toughen punishment for owning guns in a country that has long prided itself on crime-free streets.

The legislation, approved by parliament earlier Tuesday, will target organized crime syndicates. The new law increases penalties for firing a gun to five years to life in prison and a fine of up to $279,600, from the current three years.

A member of an organized crime group found with a gun could face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $46,660 under the new law, up from 10 years in prison.

While shootings are still relatively rare in Japan, authorities are concerned about a recent rise in crimes involving guns.

In April, Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Ito was shot twice in the back and died hours later. A senior member of Japan's top crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, was captured at the scene and confessed.

Gun licenses are issued for hunting and sports purposes. Owners must have their weapons inspected by authorities once a year.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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