06:53:14 EST Dec 19, 2005
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Detectives investigating race riots that rocked Sydney last week seized a pistol, ammunition, knives and smoke bombs in a series of raids Monday, police said in a statement.
The weapons haul came after police questioned five men arrested Sunday night with a drum of petrol and objects for putting together makeshift fuel bombs in their car, New South Wales Police said in a statement.
Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said that material in the car suggested the men had links to white supremacist groups.
Four of the men were released without charge after questioning and the fifth was ordered to appear in court on Jan. 17 on charges of being armed with intent to commit an indictable offence.
State Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said police raided five homes in Sydney and the nearby city of Wollongong and arrested one man. He was not immediately charged.
News of the raids came the same day that New South Wales state's top political leader, Premier Morris Iemma, said police believe the threat of racial violence at Sydney's southern beaches has passed for now and urged people to return to the seaside.
"The intelligence and the security assessments are such that people are encouraged to return to normal business," Iemma told reporters. "This can change, but at the moment the assessments are that we want a return to normal."
He said there were no immediate plans to cancel celebrations by backpackers on Sydney's Bondi Beach on Christmas day.
Meanwhile, federal authorities have said they will begin trying to trace mobile phone text messages blamed for inciting race riots that rocked this city last week.
"The Commonwealth law enforcement authorities have advised New South Wales Police that they think they can start tracing all of these texts," New South Wales Police Minister Carl Scully told Macquarie Radio. "If that is the case and we do nab a few of them, that will be a very sobering message because they face the risk of being put in jail for a long time."
Police confiscated several mobile phones carrying such messages over the weekend, along with weapons including fuel bombs, swords, knives, baseball bats and a homemade club made from a stick studded with nails.
About 2,000 police took part in a major operation to maintain public order, stopping, checking and sometimes confiscating cars.
"We feel that the police have been involved to the point where we have stopped potential disasters from happening in and around our beachside suburbs, so we are confident we averted potentially major tragedies," New South Wales state Assistant Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told television's Nine Network.
Iemma said police had charged 163 people with 283 offences since their unprecedented crackdown on racially motivated rioting began on Dec. 12, the day after riots erupted at the southern beach of Cronulla.
Despite Iemma saying life should return to normal at beachside suburbs - where cafes and bars have seen profits plunge since the rioting broke out - there is no end in sight to the heavy police presence at Sydney's beaches.
He said earlier Monday that police will remain at the troubled beaches for as long as necessary - as the city gears up for summer vacations when the beaches are at their busiest.
"This is a fight for order and control of our streets," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"There are hooligans out there who believe they have the right to determine who goes to beaches and streets and who will control parts of our parks and our streets," Iemma added. "That is not something we can tolerate."
The police buildup followed a Dec. 11 riot by thousands of white youths, many of them drunk, to protest the beating a week earlier of two volunteer life guards on Cronulla beach by a group of men identified by witnesses as being of Lebanese descent.
The afternoon riot was followed by two nights of retaliatory violence by youths of Middle Eastern appearance in and around Cronulla.
Amir Ali Osmanagic, 18, from southern Victoria state appeared in Waverley Local Court Monday charged with affray and possessing an offensive implement with intent to commit an indictable offence after police said he was found Sunday on a bus heading to Sydney's Bondi Beach carrying two bottles full of petrol.
Osmanagic, who did not enter a plea, was ordered jailed until a court hearing Wednesday. Legislators in New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, last week doubled the maximum sentence for affray from five to 10 years in response to the rioting.
Many people heeded police advice to stay away from the beaches over the weekend and the biggest gathering in Sydney was a march Sunday by 5,000 people calling for peace and reconciliation between white Australians and those of Middle Eastern backgrounds.
© The Canadian Press, 2005
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