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Airport gang war suspects arrested

POLICE defended security levels at Australia's largest airport yesterday after a man was beaten to death in the terminal during a brawl by suspected rival biker gangs, but acknowledged they were taken by surprise when fighting broke out.

Four men were charged in connection with the violence that occurred midday on Sunday in front of dozens of terrified travelers at Sydney Airport. Police said more arrests were expected.

Police said at least 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. A police document said the man who died was repeatedly bludgeoned about the head by attackers wielding metal poles they grabbed from passenger barricades.

Senator Bill Heffernan, a senior opposition lawmaker, said the fight suggested there were serious holes in Sydney Airport's security and a Senate committee should investigate.

"It doesn't say much for the millions of dollars we have spent on airport security, nor does it say much in the event of a (real) terrorist attack what would happen," Heffernan said.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty acknowledged 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.

State authorities held urgent meetings yesterday 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.

New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees announced the state police anti-gang squad would be boosted to 125 members from 50 and ordered it to focus on the rising biker violence.

The police document handed to the Sydney Local Court said the fight erupted after two groups of heavily tattooed men - one believed to be connected to the Hell's Angels and the other to the Commancheros biker gangs - disembarked from the same flight from Melbourne.

The four suspects were arrested away from the airport. They were charged with fighting in a public place, but not with any crime connected to causing a death. An investigation was still under way to determine the cause of death of the man killed, police said.

The four were refused bail and ordered to reappear in court tomorrow.

"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.


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