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Police tape marks a crime scene in this file photo.JOHN LEHMANN

A 31-year-old man was shot in the head and killed, and two women were injured by gunfire, after they became embroiled in an altercation with two strangers early Sunday morning at a crowded downtown Toronto restaurant, police say.

Tariq Mohammed, a baggage handler with a division of American Airlines, was shot at close range by a man wielding a semi-automatic pistol in the Garden Restaurant, a late-night Chinese food spot in the heart of Toronto's downtown core.

The shooting was the violent conclusion of a heated disagreement between two parties: Mr. Mohammed and the two female acquaintances he was dining with and two young men, who are now at large and considered prime suspects in the slaying, Toronto police Detective Sergeant Gary Giroux said. Police believe that before crossing paths at the restaurant, the two parties did not know each other, Det. Sgt. Giroux said.

Multiple shots were fired in the restaurant, which caters to customers who have spilled out of the clubs and bars that make up the city's entertainment district. Mr. Mohammed and his friends had started off the night at Muzik Nightclub on Toronto's lake shore.

The two women struck by bullets were sent to St. Michael's Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, though one of the survivors was required to undergo surgery, Det. Sgt. Giroux said.

"The place was full. All of the tables have food on them," said Det. Sgt. Giroux, who is co-ordinating the force's homicide investigation.

On Sunday, a forensic-identification team combed the restaurant for evidence.

Mr. Mohammed, who lived with his mother and younger brother in Mississauga, came to Canada in 1996 from Trinidad and Tobago, said Keith Ali, the victim's second cousin.

Mr. Mohammed attended Clarkson Secondary School, where he played football, and studied business at George Brown College, Mr. Ali said. He had worked for American Eagle, a division of American Airlines based at Toronto Pearson International Airport, for about seven years and was classified as a crew chief, Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali was one of the family members who were called downtown Sunday morning and informed that Mr. Mohammed had been killed. He called his second cousin "a typical family person" and very "family oriented."

"To shoot three people in a crowded restaurant is such an act of cowardice," said Mr. Ali. "That's not the Toronto that I know."

Police corralled more than 20 witnesses and are asking anyone else who was at the restaurant around that time to come forward. Mr. Ali said he was also told by investigators that they have seized footage from nearby security cameras.

In a news release, police said they are seeking two suspects. The alleged shooter is described as black, between 20 and 30, lanky and about 5-foot-11. His companion is also black and around the same age, though he is described as shorter, stockier and with "bulging" eyes and hair in cornrows. The two men were last seen fleeing the restaurant south on Chestnut Street, police said.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact investigators at 416-808-7400, ext. 77387, or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.