SYDNEY – Police defended security levels at Australia's largest airport Monday after a man was beaten to death during a brawl by suspected rival biker gangs in one of Sydney's busiest terminals.
Four men were charged with affray — fighting in a public place — for the violence that occurred as terrified passengers watched on Sunday. They could face two years in prison.
State authorities held an urgent meeting Monday to consider introducing tougher laws against biker gangs, amid fears of an escalating gang war that has included drive-by shootings and a blast outside a fortified Hell's Angel's clubhouse. Sunday's death was the first casualty from the suspected gang-related clashes.
The fight erupted in one of Sydney airport's two domestic terminals when a group of suspected gang members was ambushed by another group from a rival gang as they disembarked from a flight.
Witnesses to the fighting said it was brutal.
"They came running through picking up the big metal barrier poles and swinging them like swords at each other," Naomi Constantine told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I saw one of the men lying on the ground and another man came up with a pole and just started smashing it into his head."
Police said 15 men were involved in the violence, which rampaged from the ground floor up one level to the departures hall before most of the men fled.
The four suspects were arrested away from the airport. An investigation was still under way to determine the cause of death of the man killed.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty admitted the violence took them by surprise but said police officers responded quickly to emergency phone calls for help.
"The police can't be everywhere all the time and this is an event that could have happened anywhere in Australia," Keelty told reporters.
Police have not identified the gangs suspected in the violence.
New South Wales state Premier Nathan Rees called a meeting with his police minister and other top officials Monday to consider whether to crack down on biker gangs with laws banning clubhouses and meetings of more than two or three gang members. Officials likened the measures to counterterrorism laws.
"These people have got to understand that's not the sort of behavior we tolerate in Australia and we'll be doing whatever we can to give police whatever powers they need to be able to stamp this out," state Police Minister Tony Kelly said.