SYDNEY – Australian police arrested a senior motorcycle gang member Tuesday as authorities launched a crackdown on biker groups in response to a deadly airport brawl that shocked the country and brought a simmering gang war out into the open.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, asked about Sunday's 15-minute melee that tore through Sydney Airport, said gang violence had become a problem across Australia and he would make sure there was a national response.
"This sort of behavior by bikies and others engaged in organized criminal activity is unacceptable in Australia, absolutely unacceptable," Rudd said during a visit to Washington, using the Australian term for bikers.
Tuesday's arrest of senior Bandidos member Mahmoud Dib was not directly related to Sunday's brawl, which left one person bludgeoned to death after a fight erupted between members of Hell's Angels and Comanchero when they got off a flight from Melbourne.
Dib, 27, has been charged with six firearm offenses after a semiautomatic pistol was found in a car connected to him, police said. They said he is also being investigated in connection with a string of drive-by shootings.
Police Superintendent Angelo Memmolo told reporters that tests were under way to determine if the gun had been used in any of several shootings into houses and cars in Sydney's western suburbs last week. Police said another incident occurred Monday night, when four shots were fired into a house. No one was injured, and there were no arrests.
The shootings are believed to be part of a dispute between the Bandidos and a gang called Notorious. Police said shots were fired into Dib's house on March 16, and they suspect some of the attacks have been reprisals.
A standing state commission into organized crime opened a new investigation into biker violence Tuesday following the airport brawl, in which at least 15 men rampaged through a terminal in one of Australia's busiest and most monitored gateways.
The brawlers fled the airport shortly after Anthony Zervas, 29, the brother of a well-known Sydney biker, was pummeled with metal poles. He died at a hospital.
Police said they expected to make more arrests.
Biker gangs have existed in Australia since the late 1960s, and turf battles have ebbed and flowed. Gang members are often accused of being involved in drugs, though gang leaders deny involvement in organized crime and say they cannot control individual actions.
With the exception of a full-blown gun battle in a Sydney parking lot in 1984 between Bandidos and Comancheros, most violence had been largely out of the public eye.
But the emergence in the past few years of Notorious, a shadowy group that models itself structurally on a biker gang but is more involved in crime that motorcycles, has contributed to an escalation of violence and a worrying trend of indifference to the safety of bystanders, according to Arthur Veno, author of the 2004 book "The Brotherhoods: Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs."
Rudd and Premier Nathan Rees of New South Wales, where Sydney is capital, said tougher laws against gang violence would considered in the coming months. Federal Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said airport security would be reviewed following Sunday's brawl.