Crime, for better or worse, is in Australia’s DNA. The country’s famously laid-back residents view their origin as a British penal colony almost as a point of pride, and venerate celebrity toughs such as hitman Mark “Chopper” Read. But a rash of gangland shootings and bombings targeting top figures in Australia’s criminal underworld has shattered the Sydney summer calm, and may be pushing public tolerance to its limits. The crimes have forced police to issue warnings of a full-blown gang war on the streets of Australia’s biggest city.
Earlier this month a pair of gunmen sprayed the home of Hassan “Sam” Ibrahim’s mother with machine gun fire in a drive-by shooting that authorities link to a feud between two of the country’s most powerful gangs – the Comanchero Motorcycle Club and street gang Notorious, connected with the Ibrahim family.
The failed hit came two months after an attempt on Ibrahim’s life and a year after his youngest brother Fadi took five bullets – and survived – while cruising about town in his black Lamborghini.
No one knows for sure what sparked the feud among the notoriously violent “bikie” gangs that dominate the country’s protection rackets. Explanations range from a battle over the drugs trade to a conflict over the heart of a lingerie model said to be close to Ibrahim.
If the issue is drugs, then there is certainly plenty to fight over. The latest quarterly crime statistics released by the New South Wales police show a surge in drug-related offences – with cocaine possession up 45.4 per cent, cannabis up 32.5 per cent and amphetamines up 33.6 per cent.
Regardless of the causes, police are sufficiently alarmed by the escalating violence to plan to send riot police this weekend into Sydney’s red light district of King’s Cross, which serves as the Ibrahims’ base, acting gangs squad commander Detective-Inspector Wayne Hayes told Melbourne’s Herald Sun daily. “I do have concerns there may be revenge attacks,” he said.
Not everyone is buying the gang war narrative, however. Adam Shand, a Melbourne-based reporter and author of several books on organised crime in Australia, says that law enforcement agencies are seeking to use what are actually petty squabbles between outsized egos in the gangs as an excuse to expand their authority.
“I think people always reach for the drug trafficking story, which is almost invariably wrong. These things relate more to personal disagreements and in fact, lots of these shootings even have their own separate causes,” he said. “A lot of the disputes that take place are about these things: territory and turf; where they drink; where they get their tattoos… And it escalates, unfortunately, to what we see now with the guns and the violence.“This is a juridical opportunity for some agencies, when really it’s a local police issue, I’d argue.”