Columbians in Gong court over Burqa robberies

Three Colombians alleged to be part of an organised criminal gang that used Muslim burqas as a disguise during an armed robbery were refused bail in Wollongong Local Court yesterday.The men, two of whom are living in Australia illegally, were arrested at Bellambi on Wednesday after a tip-off from the public about three men acting suspiciously in a green Ford Falcon.The vehicle matched the description of a car filmed by CCTV cameras at the scene of a number of armed robberies of business people as they left banks in southern Sydney.One of the robberies, of a jewellery worker who withdrew money at Miranda on May 6, allegedly involved a bandit in a full-length black burqa with a slit for eyes and sunglasses.Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi called for a ban on the garment being worn in public, warning it was emerging as the "disguise of bandits".

  • EDITORIAL: Beneath the veil: what is our fear?During an application for bail yesterday, one of the men arrested at Bellambi told Magistrate Michael Stoddart through an interpreter that he was seeking political asylum.Legal Aid solicitor Neriss Keay told the court that Carlos Javier Pena, aged 32, had been in Australia for about 12 months and his visa was due to expire next month.She said Pena's brother had disappeared in Colombia and her client feared he would be killed if he was deported.Opposing the application, police prosecutor Aaron Wunderlich said Pena and his co-accused - Juan Carlos Juarez Lopez (59), and Betancourt Sanchez (22) - were part of an organised gang that preyed on people leaving banks with large sums.He said Lopez and Sanchez, who face theft and attempted robbery charges, were illegally in Australia after their visas expired last year.Sgt Wunderlich said the sums involved included one take of $10,000 for which Pena had been charged, while other proceeds from armed robberies totalled $25,000 and $3500.He told the court that when the trio was arrested, police found knives inside their vehicle and a spike, which police allege was used to slash the car tyres of the victims as a distraction before they were robbed.He said Pena had identified himself and his flatmate Sanchez from CCTV footage taken at several sites where the robberies took place, but had denied committing any offences.Magistrate Stoddart refused Pena bail, while Lopez and Sanchez did not apply for bail.All three men were remanded to appear in Burwood Local Court on May 24.Meanwhile, Sen Bernardi's call for a burqa ban has sparked heated debate among community leaders, while many security experts believe the head-to-toe garment poses a real risk to public safety.There have been similar calls in England, where an armed robber used the burqa in three violent raids on department stores late last year which netted him more than £300,000 ($493,000).