WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

A former senior police officer said overnight execution-style shooting of a well-known Sydney gangland figure could lead to more mafia killings.

Police have released disturbing details of the Earlwood shooting that left crime identity Pasquale Barbaro dead.

The 35-year-old was born into the Calabrian mafia - the longest operating organised crime syndicate in Australia - and suffered a similar fate to his grandfather and namesake, and another cousin who also shared the name Pasquale Barbaro. Both were murdered in organised hits.

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Officers found the heavily-tattooed body of the most recently slain Barbaro facedown on the footpath of an Earlwood in southwest Sydney street after responding to reports of a shooting about 9.40pm on Monday.

Police said earlier investigations suggested the hit was a targeted shooting and investigations are continuing, headed by the State Crime Commands Homicide Squad.

Barbaro was no stranger to gangland hits. His grandfather and father were both taken out in targeted strikes, and experts close to the family have suggested he may have been taken out for the same reason his grandfather was - for "breaking the mafia code".

Barbaro's grandfather Peter Pasquale Barbaro was gunned down in Brisbane in 1990 for "telling tales outside of school", journalist Keith Moor, who has published books on the family, said.

His cousin, Pat Barbaro, was shot dead in a Melbourne carpark in 2003.

Another cousin, also called Pasquale Barbaro, was involved in what was the world's biggest ecstasy bust. Some 15 million pills were hidden inside tinned tomatoes and shipped by the Calabrian mafia from Italy to Melbourne.

Influential figures

Former senior policeman and author Clive Small says the Barbaro family has long been influential figures in the notorious organised crime group.

"The Calabrian mafia started up in Australia almost 100 years ago in the 1920s, and since then they've just grown and grown and they are currently the longest operating organised crime syndicate in Australian history," he told ABC radio.

"Many of the names that came here in those early days are still prominent names within Australia within the Calabrian mafia. The Barbaro name did come in early in the piece and they've been main players going back to the start of when they became involve in the drug trade."

Small said that while the family-based crime group had grown in maturity in Australia, these days, shooting and gang warfare associated with the group rarely play out in public, but there had been recent exceptions. In August last year, mafia-linked lawyer Joseph Acquaro was executed outside his Melbourne gelato shop.

"As they mature in organised crime, they also understand that murdering in the streets is bad for business. It attracts police attention, and that's why we've seen a decline in the number of murders," he said.

"At the same time, when it's been a matter of prestige or revenge, they have been willing to kill people."

The latest Pasquale Barbaro to be taken out in an organised hit was rumoured to be a high-ranking informant for the state's Crime Commission. He avoided a shooting just days ago.

Last year Barbaro ran from a hail of bullets aimed at him as he stood outside a Leichhardt business. Following this incident an officer told the Telegraph the shooting had "all the hallmarks of an attempted professional hit, except they missed".

"The homicide squad will be looking at whether the Calabrian mafia decided themselves to silence Pasquale Barbaro because the suggestion is he was breaking the code of omerta and had become an informer," Moor told AAP yesterday.

More murders

But Small said no matter the cause of the crime, it could lead to more murders.

"The interesting part here is going to be, if this was not another mafia hit ... but an outside hit, I would think the mafia are going to decide that they have to avenge the death of Pasquale Barbaro and we'll see another killing or killings sooner rather than later," he said.

The death comes two weeks after another crime figure, Hamad Assaad, was shot dead outside his Georges Hall home.

Assaad, 29, was a key suspect in the execution of standover man Walid Ahmad at a Bankstown shopping centre in April.

That killing was thought to be in retaliation for the shooting homicide of Safwan Charbaji outside a nearby panel beater two weeks earlier. A year ago Mr Barbaro survived a shooting in the inner west suburb of Leichhardt when a gunman fired at least six shots at him.

According to Fairfax Media, police believed Assaad was a suspect in that non-fatal shooting.

Supt David Johnson wouldn't comment on Sydney's spate of "Gangland" shooting but said a strike force had been set up to investigate the Earlwood shooting. But he did ensure that the public were safe.

"From time to time these sort of incidents do happen but I can assure the public that the person that was at the centre of this was clearly the intended victim of this incident."

Moor believes Monday night's shooting could be difficult to solve because traditionally the Calabrian mafia are reluctant to talk to authorities. "I'm presuming that none of the Barbaro family will be willing to help police," he said.

"They'll probably do their own investigation into what happened." The journalist said the problem for police trying to crack down on the Barbaros was that, as soon as one was knocked down, another seemed to pop up. "That's been going on for generations," he said.

Police have advised the shooting was very clearly targeted attacks, and that there is no threat to the community.