Inside 'Cocaine City' as horrifying drugs turf war erupts

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Police at scene of drugs war murder in Sydney (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)
Police at scene of drugs war murder in Sydney (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

Sydney is in the grip of a bloody drugs turf war that has led to five people being shot in five days, writes Jeremy Armstrong in Australia.

In the latest terrifying act of violence, suspected cocaine importer Ferenc “David” Stemler, 28, was killed in cold blood, his body partially covered as children walked past it on their way to school. Dylan Hartas, a resident living less than 100m away, told the Mirror how he awoke in the leafy residential suburb of Canterbury to the sound of rapid gunfire at 2am.

“I heard three shots in quick succession,” he said. “But there may have been more as it woke me up. Then came the police sirens." Next morning, the entire street was cordoned off as his two children, aged 12 and 15, had breakfast. It was another shocking public execution that has led to Sydney being labelled “Cocaine City” by a politician demanding the legalisation of the drug.

The controversial call came because police are struggling to turn the tide on a “dial-a-deal” trade raking in a staggering £2million a week for the drug cartels. Cate Faehrmann, a Greens MP, sparked a nationwide debate when she said the current drugs policy is simply not working.

Inside 'Cocaine City' as horrifying drugs turf war erupts rriddqixxiqezinvSuspected cocaine importer Ferenc 'David' Stemler

“Senior police bureaucrats, media and politicians have instead all been saying the same thing: that Sydney has a drug problem and getting tougher is the answer,” she added. "Despite the evidence that it doesn’t work.” The latest killing spree began with the death of Ahmad Al-Azzam. He was sitting in his Toyota Camry when he and two others were shot.

Man in 30s dies after being stabbed in park sparking police probeMan in 30s dies after being stabbed in park sparking police probe

Al-Azzam was killed by several bullets, including one to his head, His murder came just as the Women’s World Cup was about to start in Australia last month. Next, high-profile criminal defence lawyer Mahmoud Abbas, 31, was hit as he was getting into his vehicle.

Police stressed he was an innocent victim of a turf war involving Middle Eastern and Asian crime syndicates and local “bike” squads. He was able to run for cover and is said to be recovering from his injuries.

Inside 'Cocaine City' as horrifying drugs turf war eruptsDylan Hartas at the spot where Stemler was gunned down (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

And then came Stemler’s death. He was on parole for trying to import 2kg of cocaine in 2015. Vesna Rasic, 58, walks past the spot where he died on her way to work. It is now marked by flowers and a cross with ‘RIP David’ on it.

“I am in shock, I am petrified,” she said. “They still don’t know who the killer is and this is on our doorstep. Sydney has become Australia’s drugs capital. Police are under-resourced.” Shadow police minister Paul Toole says a royal commission would uncover criminal gangs and help diminish the brazen shootings.

But the drug war goes on because of the huge profits being made. Cocaine is selling for anything up to £200-a-gram in Sydney, more than in any city outside the Arabian Gulf. Police are doing their best to crack down on imports.

Inside 'Cocaine City' as horrifying drugs turf war eruptsVesna Rasic (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

In May, two Greek nationals were charged after £30m of cocaine was found in the walls of a shipping container in Sydney. But there have been 20 fatal drug-war shootings since 2020. The latest trio of gun attacks is thought to have been triggered by the killing of drug lord Alen Moradian on June 27 in Bondi Junction.

In 2011, after he admitted that his Golden Gun drug syndicate was behind the arrival of 200kg of cocaine to Sydney, a judge gave him ten years. His wife Natasha Youkhana pleaded with him to change to the low-key lifestyle portrayed in hit TV show The Sopranos. “Why do you just sit there and show off? Do you see Tony Soprano doing that?” she wrote. “You want attention, you love it. People like that won’t survive.”

Taskforce Magnus, led by the State Crime Command, will investigate the links between the most recent shootings and Moradian’s death. Police pledged to leave “no stone unturned” but New South Wales Deputy Commissioner David Hudson warned violence was the by-product of a drug habit.

“People think it’s pristine, but know that there’s a whole illicit trade,” he said. “The people who consume it would never associate with those who move it.”

Jeremy Armstrong

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