Drive-by shootings and Molotov cocktail firebombs in tit-for-tat turf war between King Cobras and Rebels gangs over Māngere

The turf war between the Rebels and the King Cobras gangs has continued to escalate in the past week, with three shootings and an attempted arson on a nightclub.

A home in Māngere linked to the Rebels was shot at last Sunday, followed by a fire at a Manukau bar frequented by the King Cobras on Monday, then a suspected shooting of a business in Manurewa on Tuesday.

A home in Manurewa where the Herald understands a Rebel lives with his family was targeted in a drive-by shooting on Thursday.

No one was hurt in the most recent string of attacks, which come after nearly three months of tit-for-tat retaliation between the rival gangs, in which cars, homes and businesses have been firebombed and riddled with semi-automatic gunfire.

While the most public attacks were the shooting and arson of a barber shop and tattoo parlour in Māngere and a reciprocal attack on a bar in Manukau, the police have linked at least 15 incidents across the city to the gang war since the start of May.

“Someone’s going to die soon,” said a police source.

A request by the Herald to interview a senior Counties Manukau police officer on Sunday about the gang conflict was declined, although a police spokeswoman did confirm details of the most recent shooting in Clendon Park on Thursday.

“Shots were reportedly fired at an address in Palmers Rd by offenders who left the scene in a vehicle. Occupants were inside the house at the time, however fortunately no one was injured.”

In a similar spate of violence between the Tribesmen and Killer Beez gangs last November – six shootings over five days in a 2km radius around Ōtara – extra police were called in as backup.

The “suppression strategy” included more marked police cars patrolling the streets and stopping vehicles driven by gang members, while a meeting was held with 50 leaders in the community to discuss the problem.

Specialist gang liaison officers also worked with leaders from both gangs to ease tensions which, according to a police briefing released under the Official Information Act, reduced the “level of direct conflict and demonstrates the combined impact of enforcement and engagement”.

The ongoing conflict between the King Cobras and the Rebels was ignited on social media late last year when a senior member of the Rebels staked a claim to Māngere, a suburb that the King Cobras consider to be their territory.

Around the same time, a King Cobra “patched over” – or switched allegiances – to the Rebels which is a rare move considered highly insulting in the criminal underworld where loyalty is highly valued.

Founded in Ponsonby in the 1950s, the King Cobras is one of the oldest patched gangs in New Zealand.

The Rebels was the first Australian motorcycle gang to establish a presence in New Zealand, in late 2010, but in recent years has been bolstered by senior members deported from Australia.

It has been joined by other outlaw motorcycle gangs, such as the Comancheros and Mongols, and although these deportees comprise a relatively small proportion of the thousands of so-called “501s”, nicknamed after the section of the immigration law used to remove them from Australia, dozens of them stamped their mark in New Zealand’s criminal world.


Organised crime detectives believe these new gangs have a disproportionate influence because of their international connections, sophisticated counter-surveillance tactics, and aggressive use of firearms.

In May, senior members of the Comancheros were arrested on serious drug and money laundering charges as part of the New Zealand arm of the global FBI sting, Operation Trojan Shield.

In particular, the Mongols ruffled feathers with rival gangs marked by shootings and suspicious fires of businesses and cars, and a tit-for-tat war with the Head Hunters in Auckland that culminated in shots fired inside the five-star Sofitel Hotel.

While New Zealand criminals have always carried firearms, the arrival of the Australian groups has led to an escalation where rival groups are more likely to shoot at one another.

“We see that as a very undesirable shift in our criminal landscape,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the Herald in announcing Operation Tauwhiro in February to target firearms in the hands of criminals.

“While this is predominantly an issue between gangs and organised crime groups, people are dying and that’s not okay. And, understandably, that causes fear in our communities. People should not have to live in an environment with this level of violence around them.”

In the most high-profile clash this year, a member of the Head Hunters allegedly fired a pistol in the crowded lobby of the five-star Sofitel hotel on Auckland’s waterfront. The Head Hunters, for so long the dominant gang in Auckland, were feuding with the Mongols at the time.

While these crimes often go unreported unless the violence spills into the public, or the consequences are fatal, hospital data shows 350 people in Auckland have been treated for gunshot wounds in the past five years.

The proliferation in firearms also increases the risk for frontline police. Constable Matthew Hunt was fatally shot in West Auckland last year, the first police officer to be killed on duty for a decade, while a Waikato colleague was shot by gang members in another routine traffic stop.

The most recent attack, combined with police needing to confront other armed and dangerous individuals in Auckland and Hamilton, has reignited the debate on whether police should be routinely armed.

Police Association president Chris Cahill has called for more frontline police to carry firearms, and the return of the Armed Response Teams, although these moves have been ruled out by Police Minister Poto Williams.

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