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They were small-time gangsters who sold drugs at schools and nightclubs. But with muscle, firepower and wads of cash, they moved about like big guys who ran the city.

Stories linking violence, drugs and Vancouver's Indo-Canadian community date back about 10 years.

Jimsher (Jimmy) Dosanjh had come to police attention in the late 1980s when they were tracking the multi-ethnic Los Diablos street gang. He was arrested and charged with murder after Teodoro Salcedo, the Colombian cocaine cartel's man in Vancouver, was killed on March 14, 1991.

The charges were dropped after witnesses refused to testify. But while he was in jail, Bhupinder (Bindy) Johal took over his territory. The troubles began when Mr. Dosanjh was released.

Conflicting reports circulated about the reason for Mr. Dosanjh's next move. Maybe he was upset about a comment made to his girlfriend. Maybe he was upset with Mr. Johal taking over his business. Never mind. He was upset and, according to the Vancouver media, he put a contract out on Mr. Johal.

Mr. Dosanjh must have forgotten that honour among thieves is rare. Testimony at a later trial revealed that the man hired to kill Mr. Johal cut a deal with him. Mr. Johal allegedly plotted his revenge.

Mr. Dosanjh was lured into an alley on Feb. 25, 1994, with the promise of stolen goods. He was stood in front of his truck and was shot in cold blood.

It was Mr. Dosanjh's brother, Ranjit (Ron), who threatened revenge. But less than two months later, in what police described as the city's most brazen assassination, Ron Dosanjh was gunned down in a busy intersection in rush-hour traffic. The gunmen pulled up beside him and fired shots from a high-powered rifle, hitting him in the face.

Police assured the city that rival gangs were responsible for the violence and the danger to others was minimal.

But on April 24, 1994, Mr. Johal's neighbour, Glen Olson, was shot in a park behind his home while walking Mr. Johal's dog. Police said the killers had mistaken the victim for Mr. Johal.

The Province newspaper reported that one of Mr. Olson's killers overdosed on heroin two weeks later; the second gunman killed himself shortly afterward.

Police made arrests as public alarm grew. Mr. Johal and five others were picked up in connection with the slaying of the Dosanjh brothers; they were acquitted.

Mr. Johal was out of jail, but remained on the police radar. He was picked up in 1996 after the kidnapping of the younger brother of a Lotus gang member who allegedly had crossed Mr. Johal over a cocaine deal.

Weeks later, two others involved in the kidnapping were shot. Roman Mann, Mr. Johal's best friend, was killed and Mani Rezaei survived with severe injuries.

On Dec. 20, 1998, shortly after being released from jail after serving time for assault and drug-related charges, Mr. Johal was shot down in front of 300 people at the Palladium Club in downtown Vancouver. No charges were ever laid.

Police said they had several suspects, but no witnesses willing to testify.