THE chain of text messages that led to the riot in Sydney’s central business district on Saturday leaving 23 people injured, including six police officers, was being traced by detectives last night.
More arrests were expected in addition to those of the six men already charged, after about 400 protesters tried to storm the US consulate in Sydney and became involved in running battles with police around Hyde Park, St James railway station and William Street.
Witnesses described fierce scuffles between groups of men who hurled drink bottles at police. Most of the protesters treated on the scene were suffering from pepper spray-related injuries. The two police officers taken to hospital with head wounds were released after observation.
The public order and riot squad was on standby last night to quell any further outbreaks of violence, and an investigative team, Strike Force McAlister, was formed to track down ringleaders.
The demonstrators had gathered to protest against the airing of a trailer for an anti-Islamic film posted on YouTube. The 14-minute film, released months ago, has sparked violent protests in parts of the Middle East, including an armed attack on the US consulate in Libya in which the US ambassador died.
Some of the Sydney protesters, including a young child, were seen carrying placards calling for people to be beheaded.
“This is not the Australian way,“ said the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. “I do not want to see in the hands of anyone, particularly children, offensive signs that call for the killing of others.“
Many Muslim groups joined her in condemning the violence and said the protest was organised by individuals, without informing the police beforehand.
The chairman of the Islamic Council of NSW, Khaled Sukkarieh, said the Islamic community were „horrified“ by what they saw on Saturday.
„The violence that took place, the scenes and the placards were not presenting Islam or what we stand for,“ he said, speaking on behalf of 14 Australian Islamic organisations.
Many people the Herald spoke to described their fear as they witnessed men from the crowd
striking at police officers with sticks. Police responded with batons and police dogs as the main body of protesters spilt down steps next to St James railway station.
While some reports said police were taken unawares by the protests, the Herald understands officers had received some of the text messages circulating on Friday night calling for people to “unite“ and “defend the honour of our prophet“.
As a result, riot police, mounted officers and the dog squad were sent to Hyde Park, and later a staging post in Stanley Street in east Sydney, before protesters arrived.
Yesterday detectives were reviewing pictures showing men using bottles as weapons and smashing the windscreen of a police cruiser with a milk crate.
The Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said protesters had used social media to organise the demonstration but he would not comment on the intelligence gleaned from Facebook and other websites.
Among those charged was Ahmed Elomar, 29, a champion boxer who was refused bail after being charged with affray.