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Hit man killed in Colombia hospital

world Updated: Jan 10, 2009 19:53 IST

A cold-blooded professional hitman gave a suspected Colombian drugs lord no chance, pumping four shots from a silenced pistol into his victim as he lay in his hospital bed, reports said on Saturday.

Leonidas Vargas, 60, who was being treated for a pulmonary complaint, was killed late Thursday after the gunman entered his hospital room in the Spanish capital.

Police believe his killing was a settling of scores by his rivals in the milieu.

Daily El Pais said the gunman entered the Doce de Octubre hospital, went up to the cardiology department on the fifth floor and asked at reception where Vargas could be found.

He walked 25 metres (yards) down the corridor to room 537, and asked the suspected drugs trafficker's roommate if he was Vargas.

When the man responded that Vargas was the man in the adjoining bed, the gunman immediately shot the 60-year-old four times from point-blank range before fleeing.

El Pais said the first shot was aimed at the chin, destroying Vargas's respiratory tract and preventing him from crying out, the second and third hit him in the neck, destroying his carotid artery and causing massive bleeding, and the fourth penetrated his heart.

A nurse, hearing the thud of the shots, rushed to the room, followed by a doctor, and probably passed the gunman on his way out, the paper said.

Vargas' hospital roommate, as well as the nurse, received psychological counselling after the incident.

Police closed several floors of the hospital, but were unable to capture the killer who may have fled by metro with another person, who may have stood guard outside as the shooting was carried out, Spanish news media reported.

Spanish police arrested Vargas in July 2006 in connection with a shipment of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of cocaine. He had since been released on bail as the investigation continued pending a possible trial.

At the time of his arrest, Colombia was offering a reward of five million dollars (3.7 million euros at current exchange rates) for his capture.

Vargas was convicted by a Colombian court for drug trafficking in 1995, sentencing him to 19 years in jail and fining him 1.5 million dollars.

Investigators considered Vargas a key figure in the Colombian drugs trade, linked to the Medellin cartel.

Spain is Europe's main entry point for cocaine from South America, mostly from Colombia, the world's top producer of the drug.