Melbourne police have sent special investigators and extra patrols into the city's northern suburbs in a bid to control feuding Lebanese families who have bombed and shot each other's homes, and exchanged fire from speeding cars.
The escalating war between the Kassab and Tiba families appears to merge clan tensions with a battle to control the local drug trade, reinforcing Australian Crime Commission reports of the involvement of Middle Eastern gangs in violent crime.
Last year the patriarch of another Lebanese crime clan, 65-year-old Macchour Chaouk, was shot dead in Melbourne's north during a separate feud with the rival Haddaras family that a local magistrate described as an "ongoing war".
Organised crime among Lebanese groups emerged first in Sydney during the 1990s, when drug trafficking, extortion and other crimes erupted into turf wars which, at their peak, saw the Lakemba police station peppered with gunfire.
Contacts grew with other groups in Melbourne, where several years ago the Lebanese community was rocked by shootings, extortions, abductions and beatings as the Crime Commission warned of expanding crime - especially in drugs and vehicle rebirthing - among Middle Eastern groups.
Weapons used in the Kassab-Tiba war have reportedly been supplied by Middle Eastern crime gangs in Sydney.
"The deliberate use of violence is a key feature of Middle Eastern organised crime groups," the commission noted in its report on organised crime in Australia, which also said the trend mirrored patterns among other ethnic groups displaced by war.
The violent emergence of Lebanese gangs in Melbourne follows the gangland wars between the rival Williams and Moran crime families, which saw more than 30 killings over four years.
The final blow in that war was the murder last year of crime boss Carl Williams in Victoria's maximum security Barwon Prison, where he was serving a life sentence for contracting three murders and conspiring to commit another.
Police are now trying to cap the growing violence between the Kassab and Tiba families that has rocked the northern Melbourne suburbs of Jacana, Coolaroo and Glenroy for the past two weeks.
Exchanges of gunfire, including shots fired from cars racing past suburban schools breaking up for the day, appear to be a sudden spike in tensions that the Herald Sun reports has seen more than 50 shooting incidents in the past five years.
The Herald Sun this week identified the feuding families, alleging that associated gang members had been involved in methamphetamine production and trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.
The newspaper also said dozens of witnesses had been intimidated.
Recent violence had been fuelled by tit-for-tat raids involving drugs and money over the past year, and clashes between members of both families serving sentences in Laverton maximum security prison.
Last week a bomb was hurled through the window of a Tiba family home in Guildford St, Coolaroo, failing to injure any of the five people inside but sparking a retaliatory raid the next day in which a house in Sunset Boulevard, Jacana, was blasted by a shotgun.
Within five hours the Guildford St house was rammed by a ute and peppered with 13 shots, followed this week by another drive-by attack on Sunset Boulevard and a subsequent car chase involving shots from both vehicles.
The gunfight terrified locals.
"There's a school at the top of the street and shops nearby," Brent Lynch told the Herald Sun.
"I was joking with the guys at work that I'd have to get the dogs in bullet-proof vests. It's almost a war."
Local Mayor Oscar Yildiz told the Age that the violence had spiralled out of control and that innocent people could be killed.
"I mean, this is Australia, it's not a Hollywood movie and these guys are indiscriminately shooting," he said.
The Tiba family has also urged protection.
Patriarch Abdul Tiba told the Age nobody seemed to care that he and his wife had been forced to live in his car and in motels.
"I tell [the police] I want to protect my family." he said.
"No one cares about this. They want to give all the responsibility for this [to me]. I know nothing and I've given them my statements."
Police have formed a special taskforce that includes experts in narcotics and organised crime, and sent more patrols into the area to end the war.
"We will make sure that we pour every available resource into this matter and bring it to a conclusion with the arrest of the people involved," Assistant Commissioner for Crime Graham Ashton told reporters.
"It is obviously one of our top priorities at the moment."By Greg Ansley Email Greg