The Cronulla Riots of 2005 were a series of racially motivated mob confrontations which originated in and around Cronulla, a beachfront suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Soon after the riot, ethnically motivated violent incidents occurred in several other Sydney suburbs.
On Sunday, 11 December, 2005, approximately 5000 people gathered to protest against recently reported incidents of assaults and intimidatory behaviour by groups of non-locals, most of whom were identified in earlier media reports as Middle Eastern youths from the suburbs of Western Sydney. The crowd assembled following a series of earlier confrontations, specifically an assault on three off-duty lifesavers which took place the previous weekend. The crowd initially assembled without incident, but violence broke out after a large segment of the mostly white Australian crowd chased a man of Middle Eastern appearance into a hotel and 2 other youths of Middle Eastern appearance were assaulted on a train.
The following nights saw several retaliatory violent assaults in the communities near Cronulla and Maroubra, large gatherings of protesters around western Sydney, and an unprecedented police lock-down of Sydney beaches and surrounding areas, between Wollongong and Newcastle.
2GB Radio broadcaster Alan Jones was accused of inciting the riots by fuelling largely anti-middle eastern sentiments from callers on his talk show. He was found by The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to have breached the commercial radio code by broadcasting material that was likely to encourage violence, in the lead up to the riot. (http://www.smh.com.au/news/tv--radio/alan-jones-breached-code/2007/04/10/1175971070038.html)
On Sunday 11 December 2005, an estimated crowd of 5000 gathered at Cronulla beach. In the week leading up to the incident, this confrontation and the subsequent circulation of anonymous calls to gather at the beach — spread via SMS text messaging ("Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and wog bashing day.") and other means — were the subject of much publicity and media commentary which played a large role in raising the profile of the event as well as framing it as racially motivated.
The assembly occurred after elements in the local community called for a public demonstration in response to the previous weekend's confrontation between a group of Middle Eastern background and some local Cronulla beach surf lifesavers. Police had earlier stated that they believed this previous assault had been racially motivated.
A small number of demonstrators wore clothing bearing racist slogans such as "We Grew Here, You Flew Here", "Wog Free Zone" and "Ethnic Cleansing Unit" and some slogans such as "Aussie Pride" and "Save 'Nulla". Chants of "Lebs out", "Fuck off Lebs", "Lebs go home", "No Lebs", and other discriminatory expressions were continuously shouted out by the mob. .
Representatives from three far-right organisations were also identified handing out pamphlets, namely the Australia First Party, the Newcastle-based Blood and Honour and the Patriotic Youth League (PYL). The PYL describes itself as a "radical nationalist" group with links to the US-based racist skinhead group Volksfront and the New Zealand National Front. The PYL had previously been linked by The Sydney Morning Herald to racially motivated attacks at the University of Newcastle. None of the groups have claimed a role in organising the event.
NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione afterwards said police believed representatives of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups had been among the crowd. "That in fact is something that we're following up," he later told the Nine Network. The network later reported that "one woman was pictured among the angry crowd holding a poster…which advertised a group known as the Patriotic Youth League."
According to ABC News, after several hours had passed without direct confrontation, the initially festive atmosphere rapidly turned to violence:
Earlier in the day the atmosphere had been party-like despite the large crowd, which some estimates say numbers 5,000 people. That changed when a man of Middle Eastern appearance was chased into a hotel bistro. Within a minute the hotel was surrounded by several thousand people screaming and chanting. About a half an hour later a fight broke out across the road and police led away a man with a shirt over his head as the crowd lobbed beer cans at him.
It all started when this guy outside Northies shouted, 'I'm going to blow youse all up.'before he was surrounded by the crowd and attacked.
Through the remainder of the day, several more individuals of "Middle Eastern appearance" were allegedly assaulted, as well as several who were not actually ethnic Arabs, including Turks, a Jewish boy and a Greek girl . Police and ambulance workers leading away the victims from the riots were also assaulted by groups of people throwing beer bottles. Several dozen people were treated for minor cuts and bruises, while six individuals were evacuated under police escort to be assessed by doctors. One was further evacuated to St. George Hospital, in a serious but stable condition. Some were protected from further injury by the assistance of people within the crowd.
As they moved to protect several individuals targeted by the crowds, many of the police present employed riot equipment including capsicum spray in order to subdue several of the attackers. A call for reinforcements was placed to the police station in Miranda, a nearby suburb on the peninsula. Local police at Cronulla had earlier commented that they were sufficiently prepared to deal with any anticipated violence at Cronulla beach, but seemed to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who had arrived.
Elouera Road was temporarily closed to traffic. A total of 25 people were later reported injured in the incidents, including two ambulance officers. Later that evening, The Sydney Morning Herald quoted a New South Wales Police spokesman as saying that seven people had been arrested, and that charges had been filed against four individuals. By the following morning of the 12th, the News Limited website reported twelve arrests total. Charges to be laid included assaulting police, throwing a missile, offensive behaviour, hindering police and resisting arrest.
Through the remainder of the evening, cars and windows in Maroubra, Arncliffe and Rockdale were vandalised. Several instances of property damage at the Rockdale railway station were reported. A 23-year-old man was stabbed outside a golf club in Woolooware after being approached by a group of men of Lebanese heritage.
By 1:00 a.m., reports of violence had also spread to Brighton-Le-Sands, where police wearing riot gear sectioned off Bay Street in a confrontation with a crowd of people of Lebanese Australians. The violence then spread to Ashfield in Sydney's Inner West, as well as suburbs in Greater Western Sydney, with outbreaks in Bankstown and Punchbowl.
Police said 16 people had been arrested and charged with 512 offences. Those charged were from Mortdale, Cronulla, Bondi Junction, Kareela, Granville, Lugarno, Greenacre, Mascot, Northmead, Jannali, Sutherland and Riverwood. Offences included malicious damage, resisting police, hindering police, assaulting police, resisting arrest, possessing prohibited drugs, behaving in an offensive manner, threatening violence, affray, possession of a knife in a public place and driving in a dangerous manner. All of those charged were men between 17 and 40 years of age.
Prime Minister Howard condemned the riots, describing the violence as "sickening", adding however that he did not believe racism to be widespread in Australia. Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley also condemned the violence.
On 12 December a police strike force was established to track down those responsible for the riots using video and photo evidence. The New South Wales State Parliament was recalled by the Premier on Thursday, 15 December, to increase police powers in regard to the riots. The new powers may include the closing of alcohol outlets and the confiscation of motor vehicles.
On Monday 12 December, there were initially reports of new text messages circulating, leading to concern over fresh violence at Cronulla. Various news outlets later reported around eight hundred people gathering outside Sydney's Lakemba mosque on Monday night. Residents claimed they were there to defend the Mosque against attacks from Southern gangs, as had been threatened by the white demonstrators. The crowd had started to disperse at 9:30 p.m. but the Seven Network reported that some then packed into dozens of cars, travelling in convoys towards Sydney's southern district, while sporadically assaulting people and vandalising cars and property in Bexley and various other suburbs on their way. The same network also reported that a leaked police incident report believed to relate to Punchbowl Park, the staging point of the convoys, stated that officers received directions "not to enter the area and antagonise these persons".
An audio file recorded from the Sydney Police's radio reported further violence on the night of 12 December, with residents of Cronulla reporting that cars full of Middle Eastern men had driven into the area.
According to a report which appeared in the January 22 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, one of the Cronulla residents was saved by the actions of a 24-year-old junior rugby league coach Ahmed Jajieh. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Jajieh had been among the people assembled outside the Lakemba mosque in order to protect it from the expected attack. After the threats were not realised, he reported trying to dissuade a group from moving on to Cronulla to execute reprisal attacks, in which he was unsuccessful. He later set off for Cronulla himself, "...to make sure nothing happened", where he came across a local man under assault by a group of up to thirty young men. In security camera footage later released by police to the media, he is seen confronting and warding off the assault. The victim sustained minor injuries including a hairline fracture of the arm.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported a retaliatory attack in which a 26-year-old man and two females were approached by two carloads of young Lebanese men who threatened the females with sexual assault at a golf club at the nearby Sydney suburb of Woolooware. The man was stabbed five times after four men leapt from a car outside Woolooware Golf Club. The man stated to The Herald, "I was knocked to the ground - there was one on either side of my head kicking my head. It wasn't until I stood up and felt blood running down my back that I knew something was wrong. I felt up my back and I knew something was in there - I asked my friend if it was a knife or glass and he said it was a knife." Police said the 9.8 centimetre blade had snapped off after the man had been stabbed three times in the back and twice in the thigh.
The Sydney Morning Herald stated that on 29 June 2006, Yahya Jamal Serhan, appeared in Bankstown Local Court charged with affray and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm upon a man known only as "Dan", who was walking from Woolooware Golf Club with a mate and two women. In court, New South Wales Police said Dan stopped to protect the women when the men ran shouting: "Get the Aussie dogs … get the Aussie sluts". Sergeant Eurell in court said: "This was a joint criminal enterprise by members of a group of males who engaged in an unprovoked, racially motivated, premeditated attack".
An AAP report carried in The Herald stated that a 17-year-old man of Lebanese heritage was arrested on 12 July 2006 over the retaliatory attack in which a man was, "pushed to the ground, kicked and punched, and stabbed three times in the back and twice in the left thigh - one knife wound was just two millimetres from his lung - the attack ended when the 9.8 centimetre blade snapped in the [victim]'s back".
Another Herald report stated that a woman and her husband were driving along Canterbury Road on the night of Monday, December 12, when they encountered carloads of men with Lebanese flags hanging out the windows and heard one man screaming, "Do it for Allah!"
At the same time, further carloads of young Middle Eastern men made their way to Maroubra, organised again by the circulation of SMS text messages. Armed with baseball bats, crowbars and bricks, they vandalised private property (including over 100 cars) throughout streets of Maroubra. Many residents took refuge in their homes, while others who tried to confront the gangs were attacked. A 23-year-old man was injured during the unrest, as he was bashed by baseball-bat wielding youths, who attacked his car.
The SMH stated that an Australian man, Jake Schofield, was attacked by four Middle Eastern men on 11th Dec. 'All four men jumped from the car, stabbing J two times, striking J with a lump of concrete, and stomping on his head and body several times before stealing his phone and keys - J suffered serious injuries, including a fractured eye socket and nose, and two stab wounds. Two Middle Eastern youths were charged with armed robbery in company with wounding, malicious wounding with intent, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray. The two men to be charged, Wael Tahan and Mahmoud Eid, both 19, were allegedly among a group of men who jumped out of a car to attack a man with concrete blocks and stomp on his head - the men were on bail at the time of the alleged attack of Mr Schofield, accused of separate assaults. ,
The Sydney Morning Herald also reported that a Middle Eastern youth, "fuelled by racial hatred of Australians", assaulted a man with a pole during a revenge attack. Magistrate Paul Falzon said the Middle Eastern youth had screamed "fucking Aussie" as he used a pole to attack the driver of a car in Carlton on the 12th of December. The driver suffered cuts to his arm before driving off. The Middle Eastern youth was travelling with two co-accused when they stopped their car next to another and asked the driver about his nationality. Magistrate Falzon in court stated, "The facts in this case, if founded, fit squarely in the racial vilification category by the query "what nationality are you?" In my opinion it appears to be violence fuelled by racists' ideation".
The SMH stated that late on Monday night, December 12, carloads of Middle Eastern men began arriving at Punchbowl Park - "more than a hundred men had armed themselves with guns, machetes, baseball bats, knives, chains and iron bars ... before departing they left their reasons written on the street, 'AUSSI TO DIE', 'INTIFADA', 'IT'S WAR', 'NEVER REST ASSIE DOG', 'YOUS CAME BY CHAINS U CONVICT DOGS', 'WE FEAR NO OZY PIGS' ... slogans identified the authors as being 'Leb' or 'Lebanese' ... There were also a number of crude Lebanese flags drawn on the roadway ... the next three hours, across Cronulla, Maroubra and Brighton-le-Sands, between one and two hundred young Lebanese men smashed scores of cars, stabbed or bashed several people and threatened a number of women with rape."
The Herald reported that Jeffrey Ismail appeared in Bankstown Local Court accused of sending text messages that incited racial attacks on white Australians in reprisal for racial attacks on the beachfront against people of Middle Eastern extraction earlier.
At Maroubra, police said they found a stockpile of 30 Molotov cocktails and crates of rocks stockpiled on rooftops, as hundreds of local surfers gathered. Weapons such as iron bars, baseball bats, knives and even firearms are being found and confiscated.
Morris Iemma, Premier of New South Wales, announced on Tuesday December 13 that police will be given "lockdown" powers which would allow them to prohibit entry into specified areas. Referring to vigilantes, Mr Iemma said, "These criminals have declared war on our society and we are not going to let them win... You will not take control of our streets". Police said this kind of unrest was unprecedented in Australia. The Australian media reported that mobile telephone text messages were calling for revenge attacks to continue. The messages were being circulated among Australians of both Lebanese and European backgrounds.
At the carols service at St Joseph the Worker Primary School in Auburn, drive-by shots were fired into cars and parents and primary school students were verbally abused by men described as Middle Eastern. Furthermore, a total of four Churches in Sydney's South-West were attacked during the evening. The Uniting Church hall in Auburn, which is next to an Islamic centre, was set ablaze about 1.30 a.m. (AEDT) on 15 December. Premier Iemma stated that "it may be" linked to the ongoing riots.
Amidst fears of a third night of violence, perhaps continuing for the entire week, 450 police officers were deployed in Sydney's suburbs, ready to respond to any violent youths or gangs. The New South Wales Deputy Commissioner of Police Andrew Scipione said that while they had no specific intelligence, police expected more unrest. He also said that if needed he would seek assistance from police in other states, for extra resources and manpower.
Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said there had been a "welcome respite" last night from the violence of past days. But he said police would not be dropping their guard, with 450 officers on the streets of Sydney on the December 15 and 16, and numbers are likely to rise on the weekend as well. "I'd say this is the first time we've ever encountered this kind of phenomena anywhere in Australia," Mr Scipione said. "We'll look at it with a view of saying what is it that we can draw from the new powers that will allow us to be safe?" But he said police would have sufficient resources to cope with any more flare-ups at Sydney's eastern and southern beaches.
Many political spokesmen and analysts, such as New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma, Professor Michael Cyline and leaders of Islamic communities such as Keysar Trad, expressed fears that further violence would occur, fuelled by ongoing racial or ethnic tensions.
They perceived this state of conflict as a result of the years of brooding disagreements and hatred between the two main ethnic groups involved in these incidents: white Australians, on the one hand, and Middle Eastern Australians on the other. In the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, many had felt the sense of fear created by terrorism had only heightened public awareness of Arab-Australian communities in Sydney and their ongoing differences with non-Muslim Australians.
Several Muslim women's groups made calls for a voluntary curfew on Middle Eastern youths, requesting parents to keep their children at home over the weekend after the mob violence. They also urged parents to confiscate mobile telephones and car keys, in an attempt to forestall further aggression and retaliatory attacks. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Assistant Police Commissioner, Mark Goodwin, who said "I urge community leaders to continue dialogue in an effort to defuse the aggression."
Jack Passaris, Chair of the Ethnic Communities' Council of New South Wales, the peak representative body of the State's ethnic groups, called for an urgent review of the racial-vilification laws in light of the race riots. "We would urge the government to introduce laws which would make the intentional incitement of racial hatred into a criminal offence", he said.
In a speech made on 15 December, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma also described the intentions and action plans for increased police coverage to be put into effect. "Special attention will be paid to places of worship, our churches and our schools," he said. Premier Iemma warned that a 500-strong Anti-Riot Squad would be out in force over the summer as a precaution to any further disturbances.
The Premier also foreshadowed that a draft of a bill had been prepared, which was intended to provide special and augmented powers to police, to be used in the case of continuing violence. These proposed laws were to contain a sunset clause of two years, he said. Mr Iemma also welcomed the "swift justice" and the four-month jail term which had already been handed down in the case of one man who had been arrested and convicted of a charge arising from the recent violence.
Surfer Nathan Rogers, from Maroubra's notorious "Bra Boys" gang, said: "The beaches are not anyone's turf, they should be open to everyone, no matter of ethnic background." Similar "peace talks" between Muslim leaders and surfers were held at Cronulla on the evening of Wednesday December 14.
"Many of them have parents who are first cousins whose parents were first cousins. The result of this is inbreeding – the result of which is uneducationable (sic) people...and very low IQ.
Following widespread condemnation, including by Premier Iemma, Wilshire has since apologised for his comments.
Responses from the Lebanese side were mixed, with one youth stating "I'm against innocent people getting hit" whereas another interviewee, Ali, when questioned about his role in the riots, replied "No, I don't feel bad."
Of special note is that in the case of the Cronulla riots, these messages were broadcast nationally, in prime time, uncensored, showing the location and date of the proposed riot days in advance, by the Nine Network's A Current Affair. Alan Jones, the host of a popular morning talkback radio show on Sydney station 2GB used his breakfast radio programme to read out and discuss a widely circulated text message calling on people to "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge... get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day".
SMS messages were widely circulated in response to these attacks, calling for "anti-racism" protests in Melbourne and other cities on Friday 16 December and Sunday 18 December. Further messages from both groups (Middle Eastern and white Australians) of the violence in Sydney called for large-scale protests the following Sunday, police said, much the same way text messages had originally been used to incite mob violence in Cronulla.
The disturbance prompted the anonymous production of a Monopoly-style board game. The board game was produced as an electronic file and made available from free web hosts. Since the Cronulla board game was removed from hosting service Angelfire, the game has now since showed up on a right-wing website called Downunder Newslinks.
On the 22 December the BBC reported that some beach-side businesses reported a slump in takings by up to 75% since the unrest, and that the New South Wales state government had announced an AU$250,000 (US$183,000, €150000) campaign to bring tourists back to Sydney's beaches, including advertisements featuring well known sports stars, assuring tourists that it was safe to visit the area. Authorities in Britain, Canada and Indonesia issued warnings to their citizens to be on guard for possible continuing racial violence.
Ali Osman, a Lebanese Australian from Bankstown, was charged with affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm by the Sutherland Local Court on 29 September 2006 to which he pleaded not guilty. He claimed that he told police he witnessed a fight between Lebanese men and lifesavers and had tried to break it up. His lawyer argued that a photograph of Osman lying on the beach minutes after the incident proved he was not involved and that the case had been one of mistaken identity
Osman faced a maximum of two years in jail, but was instead sentenced to 300 hours community service on a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and 200 hours for the charge of affray, with the sentences to be served concurrently.
New South Wales Opposition Leader Peter Debnam criticised the lenient sentence, stating that 'it sends a very strong message to young thugs in NSW that any violence will be tolerated in this state.' NSW Police Minister Carl Scully also expressed his disapproval, describing the Court's verdict as "disgusting".
Marcus Kapitza was sentenced to 12 months jail after pleading guilty to one charge of riot.
Brent Lohman was sentenced to 11 months jail with a parole period of six months for repeatedly punching a man of Middle Eastern appearance in the head at Cronulla railway station.
Yahya Serhan, a Lebanese Australian was convicted of one count of being an accessory after the fact of malicious wounding over an attack outside Woolooware Golf Club in Sydney's southeast on 11 December 2005, that ended when a knife snapped off in the victim's back. Serhan had acted as the "getaway driver" during the attack and was convicted in April 2007 to which he was sentenced to thirteen months jail with a non-parole period of nine months. However, he was released on the day of his sentencing as he had already spent nine months in prison.