Threats: Jamal Daoud says intimidation has become common in Sydney's south-west. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Parts of Sydney's Muslim community have been accused of carrying out terrifying campaigns of boycotts, violence and unofficial policing of members of rival religious sects.
Community leaders fear an all-out sectarian war reminiscent of the Balkan proxy war of the 1990s as the conflict in Syria ignites tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Sydney. Some suburbs have ''no-go zones'' as death threats and verbal stoushes escalate into firebombings, bashings and shootings.
Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli said police were aware of several cases of extortion and violent threats made against Shiite- and Alawite-owned businesses after 23 were placed on an online boycott list. ''In terms of reported cases it is a very small number; however, police are aware of several unreported incidents and have responded accordingly,'' he said.
The civil war in Syria pits the Sunni-dominated rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has supported Syria's Alawite Muslims and Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and Iran.
Shiite and Alawite shop owners told Fairfax Media of unofficial ''policing'' they believe is designed to force them out of Sunni-dominated areas. Many have been too scared to report it to police and none would talk on the record for fear of retaliation.
One Auburn hairdresser said the harassment by men from a nearby Muslim bookstore happened almost every day and varied from ordering that posters of religious figures be taken down to demanding he donate money to the Free Syrian Army.
''They are operating like a government within a government,'' said community spokesman Jamal Daoud, who claimed up to 25 shops on Auburn Road had been targeted.
''I speak to shop-owners who are on the verge of nervous breakdown because of the constant targeting.''
The Shiite owner of a firebombed halal restaurant in western Sydney claims Muslim customers were told by Sunni leaders it was ''haram'', or forbidden, to buy from him.
''If I go on the record criticising them, believe me, things will happen in Arncliffe,'' the man said. ''It's getting worse but we need to defuse the situation. The last thing we want in this country is a sectarian war.''
In the only case to reach a court, a group of men from the Al-Risalah Islamic bookstore in Bankstown were charged over a two-week campaign of terror against the Shiite owner of a juice bar in Bankstown.
According to court documents, the men told Juicylicious owner Ali Issawi he would not last in the area and they would ''slaughter the necks'' of Assad supporters. They allegedly bashed Mr Issawi, firebombed his shop and forced him to sell it to them for an eighth of the price.
Al-Risalah owner Wisam Haddad said his ''boys'' were just ''protecting their faith'', court documents state.
Australian Syrian Association spokesman Mohamed al-Hamwi admitted anti-Assad groups were taking matters to extremes but said they were Lebanese Australians, not Syrians, who had been provoked by Shiites. He said he had instructed Sunnis not to travel to areas such as Arncliffe, Rockdale and Belfield.