Terrified passengers duck for cover as biker wars erupt at Sydney airport

A biker war erupted in front of terrified travellers at Sydney airport yesterday as rival gang members fought a pitched battle inside the domestic terminal that ended in one man being bludgeoned to death.

Warring members of the Hell's Angels and Comancheros gangs first came to blows near the arrivals gate shortly after a lunchtime flight from Melbourne had landed. They brawled their way towards the check-in desks, where they grabbed metal bollards to wield as impromptu weapons, as innocent bystanders, including children, ducked for cover.

"They were swinging them, swinging them like swords at each other," a witness, Naomi Constantine, told Australia's ABC television. "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."

A 29-year-old man, thought to be a member of the Hell's Angels, died later in hospital from severe head injuries. "At this point in time we are investigating a murder involving up to 15 gang members," said police chief Peter Williams. "It would appear there was a degree of planning that went into this."

Four of the Comancheros, aged between 21 and 25, were arrested as they tried to flee by taxi but several other bikers escaped, despite the fact the violence exploded in a top-security public space.

"They came across the turnstiles like a tangled mob," another witness, who did not want to be named, told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Even if there was airport security, there was no way they could have intervened."

Several check-in desks were still roped off behind crime scene tape last night, but Qantas, the airline which operates the domestic terminal, said the rampage caused minimal flight delays. Local media said the violence was the culmination of a vendetta following last month's bombing of a Hell's Angels clubhouse. The airport attack came just hours after drive-by shootings at six homes in a suburb of west Sydney in which two people were injured. These are believed to be linked to two other feuding biker gangs – the Bandidos and Notorious – but some commentators were drawing links between the two incidents last night, with some suggesting the Melbourne flight was bringing in "new troops".

The government of New South Wales is coming under pressure to enact tougher legislation and clamp down on biker violence. There have been calls for the state to follow the lead of South Australia, which makes membership or association with outlawed clubs illegal, with a 10-year prison term for bikers who take part in group violence.

Barry O'Farrell, the New South Wales opposition leader, said: "This horrific episode must finally force [state Premier] Nathan Rees to stop standing by and doing nothing as criminal bike gang members murder each other in broad daylight."

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