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Five-year-old girl becomes London's latest gun victim

A five-year-old girl was in a critical condition last night after being caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

The child, thought to be Thusha Kamaleswaran, was visiting relatives with her mother when she was hit in the chest with a bullet, while another innocent bystander, a 35-year-old man, was shot in the head.

Last night detectives from Scotland Yard's Operation Trident appealed for other gang members to turn in the culprits as the victims' families kept a vigil in hospital.

The incident happened just after 9pm on Tuesday night when three youths on bicycles chased two others into a south London street.

The pursued ran into Stockwell Food and Wine shop. The three others followed them to the door before firing randomly inside, hitting the schoolgirl in front of her mother. A man, who lived upstairs and helped out in the shop, was also shot.

"I looked in and saw a lot of blood on the floor but I didn't want to look at what had happened, and I was very scared," said Mareh Silva, 34, who was leaving the convenience store as the attackers dropped their bicycles outside. She said they were masked with black scarves and balaclavas but all seemed to be black teenagers, aged between 14 and 17.

The attack happened in an area plagued with gun crime. It took place just hours before the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Connect – a major crackdown on violence driven by gang culture in the borough, Lambeth, along with six others across London. Twenty one men and one woman were arrested in dawn raids as 41 addresses were searched across the capital.

Last night the small girl, who was said to be related to the owners of the shop, and the man, who was described as a "polite, peaceful, smiley chap", were in a critical but stable condition in hospital. Both are of Sri Lankan origin.

Detective Chief Inspector Tony Boughton, the officer leading the investigation, said the two victims "could have died and may still do".

He urged the two intended targets to come forward with information, adding: "They are an important part in helping us understand exactly what was happening and should be able to direct us to those responsible."

He continued: "This is a terrible incident where an innocent child has been seriously injured... These criminals have seriously injured two innocent bystanders and must face the consequences of their actions."

Yesterday the area was cordoned off as forensics officers searched for clues inside the shop, while CCTV from the area was being examined. Det Ch Insp Boughton said he believed three or four shots were fired before the three youths cycled off, with the two others running back in the same direction.

Locals speculated last night that violence had flared between rival gangs from Stockwell Gardens and the Stockwell Park Estate. A youth worker said: "It's literally just fights and retaliation. It's nothing to do with drugs."