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Power struggle inside NSW criminal gangs underworld after shootings fuels further violence, police say

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 11/05/2022 By Ursula Malone
Omar Zahed (left) was killed in the attack while his brother Tarek Zahed (right) remains in hospital in a serious condition.   (Facebook ) © Provided by ABC NEWS Omar Zahed (left) was killed in the attack while his brother Tarek Zahed (right) remains in hospital in a serious condition.   (Facebook )

Police believe the latest underworld shootings in Sydney may be the result of a self-perpetuating power struggle within criminal networks as gang members jostle to fill the shoes of those who have been killed off.

Comancheros boss Tarek Zahed and his younger brother and close associate Omar on Wednesday night became the latest gang members to be gunned down after arriving for their regular workout at the Bodyfit gym in Auburn in Western Sydney.

Tarek Zahed was shot ten times in the head, body and legs and was resuscitated by police officers who were the first to arrive on the scene. 

He later underwent surgery and remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition.

"He has obviously been shot in the head and sustained horrific injuries and his long-term prognosis is unknown," Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said. 

His brother was also shot multiple times and went into cardiac arrest, dying on the floor of the gym's foyer.

Police have recovered a badly-charred handgun and two bullets from a luxury car that was set alight in the nearby suburb of Berala shortly after the ambush. 

A second car was torched and abandoned nearby in Greenacre.

Ballistic tests are being carried out on the handgun as police try to establish whether it is linked to the shooting.

"It has been found in a burnt-out vehicle that police will allege was used in the murder so it's highly likely," Superintendent Doherty said.  

Police are also examining several firearm cartridge cases left at the scene of the shooting.

Investigators said they were keeping an open mind as to who was behind the hit.

"There is a long list of suspects," the Homicide Squad Commander said. 

Detectives investigating the shooting said a dozen targeted killings in the past two years had created a power vacuum within some of Sydney's major criminal groups.

This, they said, had resulted in former partners in crime turning on one another in an increasingly violent battle for supremacy.

"Obviously, with all these shootings and people are being killed, there's opportunities for people to try to take their place," homicide squad commander Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said.

"There's a real power struggle within different criminal networks."

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Police revealed that less than a week ago, they visited the homes of Tarek and Omar Zahed to warn them that there was a bounty on their heads.

Superintendent Doherty said police received such information "sporadically" and had a duty of care to warn those who were the intended targets.

"When we do get that information we are bound to go and tell them there's been threats against them and we think it's a real threat. It's a real risk to them," he said.

He said the pair chose to ignore their advice to leave Sydney immediately for their own safety.

"They go about their normal activity and, unfortunately, again, by going around their normal activity, they've ended up dead."

Tarek Zahed is a key henchman in the Comancheros crime gang and his deceased brother was also a member.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said it was not clear if the bounty offered for a targeted hit on the Zahed brothers came from a rival criminal network or from within the Comancheros.

"Whether that's an external conflict to this group or an internal conflict or power struggle we don't know yet, but certainly it's a concern," she said.

Detectives have been keeping tabs on the rivalries, spats and shifting alliances within Sydney's underworld.

"Within the criminal milieu, as we know, amongst all these criminal networks and there's many of them, there's always constant threats between each other," Superintendent Doherty said.

The feuding and jockeying for position has spilled over into more than 40 incidents of gang-related violence in the past two years, including 12 fatalities.

Shooting of Mahmoud Ahmad

Just two weeks ago, crime figure Mahmoud "Brownie" Ahmad was fatally shot as he left a friend's home in Greenacre in suburban Sydney.

Again, police had intelligence about a planned hit and had warned Ahmad that he was a marked man.

Speaking at the time, Superintendent Doherty said Ahmad chose to ignore those warnings.

"He was going about his normal business without a care in the world," he said. "He was either going to end up on a slab in the morgue or back in jail.

"Unfortunately for him, he's in the morgue ..."

Ahmad had only recently returned to Sydney from Lebanon, where he'd fled after previous threats on his life.

He was the brother of slain underworld figure Walid "Wally" Ahmad, who was shot dead in broad daylight outside a busy shopping centre in Bankstown in 2016.

Police claim that many more planned hits have been averted thanks to their intervention.

"I can't tell you the number of murders we have stopped or prevented but we are doing a lot," Commissioner Webb said.

Police resources boosted

Strike Force Raptor was set up in 2009 to target the criminal networks operated by bike gangs.

Commissioner Webb said it had carried out 731 arrests, seized $20 million worth of drugs, $2 million in cash, 1,500 pieces of ammunition and 123 firearms.

"We are having an impact," she insisted, denying that police had lost control.

But faced with escalating gang warfare and an ongoing series of tit-for-tat shootings, police are doubling down.

An additional 30 police officers are being allocated to Strike Force Raptor, which will now have 145 officers working full-time to investigate criminal gangs.

"It will be [an] intelligence-led operation, targeting criminals to make sure they do not compromise public safety and put fear in members of the community who are just going about their normal life," Commissioner Webb said.

A tough-talking NSW Police Minister Paul Toole described the latest gangland shooting as "unacceptable".

"When it happens at 8pm at night, when it happens in a public place, at a gym, it is not going to be tolerated," he said.

"It is unacceptable, the community [does not] want to see this happening and the community want to feel safe."


Video: Police boost numbers to crack down on gang violence (ABC NEWS)

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