Image: Scene of Australia biker brawl
Steven Siewert  /  AP
A police officer works at the scene of Sunday's melee between rival biker gangs in Sydney Airport's Terminal 3.
updated 3/23/2009 6:24:12 AM ET 2009-03-23T10:24:12

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 in connection with the violence that occurred midday Sunday in front of dozens of terrified travelers.

State authorities held urgent meetings 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.

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

Sen. Bill Heffernan, a senior opposition lawmaker, said the fight suggested there were serious holes in Sydney Airport's security and that 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 told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Brutal fighting
The fight erupted in one of the 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 ABC. "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. 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.

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.

Gangs ID'd
Police have not identified the gangs suspected in the violence.

Rees said he would consider new laws to crack down on biker gangs with measures such as 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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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