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A police email circulated around the force states that the Bandido gang has now "declared war" on the powerful Hells Angels. Photo: Peter Rae
In the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs there are tiffs, spats and feuds. And then there are full-blown bikie wars in which innocent bystanders tend to become crime statistics.
On Tuesday, police took the extraordinary step of warning the public of a possible war between two of the ''big four'' gangs - the Bandidos and Hells Angels.
Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana said police were concerned that Sydney bikies involved in drive-by shootings had been recruited to Melbourne chapters as part of an undeclared arms race.
''Some of these gangs have been quite violent, some of those influences are creeping in down here,'' he said.
Make no mistake this is not cop hyperbole - it is the real deal. On Monday, senior officers sent out an email to all police to exercise extreme caution when approaching bikies from the two gangs, who were likely to be armed and erratic.
Police are working behind the scenes to try to broker a peaceful resolution but have so far been rebuffed. They are also working on the doomsday scenario where both gangs pull in interstate members to go to war. This would include random bashings, drive-by shootings, bombings and ambushes.
The shootings in Melton a few days ago indicate the real danger is they are just not that good at it.
On Friday night, Bandidos sergeant-at-arms Toby Mitchell and several fellow members were having a few beers in Brunswick when they were told Hells Angels, armed with knives and guns, were raiding the Melton clubhouse of the Diablos (a Bandidos feeder group).
They jumped into three cars for a rescue mission, only to be ambushed outside the clubhouse by two carloads of gunmen who fired an estimated 30 shots, hitting Mitchell, 38, in the right bicep and leaving a second man with minor wounds.
This was no pinpoint operation - any of those present could have been killed. Indeed, bikies close to Mitchell rightly or wrongly blame Middle Eastern elements within the Hells Angels for the attack, claiming they are masters of the drive-by and ''they can't f-----g shoot straight''.
This is the second attempt on Mitchell - he nearly died after he was shot five times outside Doherty's Gym in Brunswick in November 2011. And the fearsome ex-kickboxer is not a man with a reputation for turning the other cheek.
The pattern of bikie wars is they are often played out in public where a chance meeting explodes.
There have been murders in airports, car parks and pubs, with the most tragic involving the Bandidos nearly 30 years ago.
The group's first chapter was formed in an ugly split within the Comancheros, which resulted in the Milperra Father's Day Massacre - a 1984 shootout between the two gangs that left seven people dead and 28 injured.
Of particular concern to police is the increased influence of bikies in the nightclub security industry, with members in full colours working on the doors.
The anti-bikie Echo taskforce has identified a series of nightclubs as potential flashpoints for inter-gang violence.
To understand a bikie war you must first grasp the inner workings of a club. There are hangers-on, probationary and fully patched members, who are led by office holders including a president and sergeant-at-arms.
Many of the members are part-timers who work for a living. As bikies they are given status, notoriety and mateship. In return, they are expected to follow orders without question.
For groups that claim to be outlaws, they have a series of strict rules that, when breached, can result in fines, a beating, or in extreme cases, death.
In fact, police say most bikie murders result from internal power struggles, referred to as internal cleansing.
Recently, several clubs have gone on aggressive recruiting campaigns, patching members who don't even own bikes. The Hells Angels have accepted a man with close connections to a Lebanese crime family with strong influences in Sydney and a proven record of accessing high-powered weapons.
Fertile recruiting grounds have included body-building gymnasiums and jails, with one gang suspected of finding 50 new members inside Victorian prisons.
With the outlaw gangs' clubhouses heavily fortified, police fear attacks could take place on private houses, affiliated business areas or public areas.
Sydney police say many of the drive-by shootings have resulted in shots being fired into the wrong houses.
There is always tension between rival gangs but mostly wise old heads know that is better to co-exist than to go to war. The old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity doesn't wash with organised crime groups.
The news of a potential war is only likely to hasten the introduction of the state government's proposed anti-gang laws aimed squarely at bikie gangs.
And a tip: Senior police have had a gutful of bikies. Expect a rapid response. And it won't be from the Gandhi playbook.