Posted on January 23, 2006

Arabic Leaders Accused of Riot Cover-Up

Ben Cubby and Andrew Clennell, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 24, 2006

The new police commander of the squad investigating the summer riots has made the explosive claim that Arabic community leaders have failed to inform on men involved in revenge attacks.

Detective Superintendent Ken McKay, of Strike Force Enoggera, yesterday angered the community and the one leader singled out, Keysar Trad, on the same day the Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, was forced into an embarrassing compromise, reinstating the officer he sacked as the head of the same strike force on Friday.

After a 90-minute meeting with strike force members and the Police Association, Mr Moroney would not specify Acting Superintendent Dennis Bray’s new role, but the Herald understands he will be second-in-charge under Superintendent McKay. The association protested that Acting Superintendent Bray had been made a scapegoat when Mr Moroney dumped him for failing to tell him there was video footage of 30 men of Middle Eastern appearance attacking a youth in Cronulla.

Superintendent McKay complained yesterday that only five people had come forward to help police since that footage was released last week. He had expected 100. “Senior members of the Arabic community need to really have a close look at themselves and start . . . identifying these people. The only people that know these people out there are members of the Middle Eastern community . . . They need to stand up and . . . be held accountable for the actions of people in the community.”

When the Herald later asked to whom he was referring to, a spokeswoman identified Mr Trad, the president of the Islamic Friendship Association, as one who could do more to identify culprits. Mr Trad denied shielding criminals, saying: “This is unfair. I am dumbfounded by it really. I spent most of Saturday helping the police.”

He accompanied Ahmed Jajieh, the one man interviewed over the Cronulla bashing, to a police station on Saturday. Mr Jajieh told them he had helped protect the bashing victim, known as Steve B, from 30 attackers, but police are frustrated because they believe he may have known some of them.

Mr Trad said he was contacted by the family of Mr Jajieh, whom he called “this hero”, and agreed to accompany him for a voluntary interview. Mr Trad said he had met Mr Moroney and offered to find Islamic youth leaders who would help identify men in the video. The Lebanese Muslims Association president, Ahmad Kamaleddine, also took offence at Superintendent McKay’s remarks.

On the reinstatement of Superintendent Bray, Mr Moroney said: “It’s not a case of backing down at all.” He had a “full and frank” meeting with him yesterday and pointed out that Superintendent McKay was still at the helm.

Four swimming pool staff have been beaten in an attack in Melbourne’s north.

Stunned witnesses said about 30 youths had punched and kicked staff, including a young woman, on the grass at Oak Park Aquatic Centre about 4pm yesterday.

One witness, Alex, said families had recoiled in horror at the bashings.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Alex said.

“I thought, ‘Not another Cronulla’.

“There seemed to be dozens of people involved, with most wading into the staff and people trying to help them.

“They all appeared to be Middle-Eastern youths.

“It was very upsetting and scary. There were hysterical children everywhere.”

Nicholas Burt, leisure manager at Moreland Council, which runs the pool, said the riot had occurred after a male lifeguard had tried to calm two teenagers arguing on the grass embankment.

Mr Burt said a third youth had butted in and when the lifeguard had escorted him to his belongings, after asking him to leave, a struggle had broken out.

“That’s when up to 30 other patrons started to physically attack staff,” Mr Burt said.

Three male lifeguards and one female security guard had been set upon by the group.

Mr Burt said that amid “blows to the back of the head and around the face”, the staff had been driven into the pool’s reception area.

He said the attack had continued until police arrived.

The staff, including one who suffered a smashed cheek, had been taken to hospital for treatment.

Asked how a minor dispute between teens escalated into a riot, Mr Burt said: “I’m not sure what could have sparked it.

“Until we have more information I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a culturally or racially motivated attack, but I would not preclude it.”

He said security camera footage would be reviewed as part of investigations.

The popular pool and its giant water-slide were shut immediately after the fracas.

Council chief Peter Brown said it was hoped the pool would reopen today.

Police said a youth, 17, had suffered a dislocated shoulder.