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Arsonists have targeted a tobacco store in Melbourne’s south-east for the second time in just over a fortnight, after a failed attempt earlier this month damaged a neighbouring shopfront.
Firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze on Station Street in Oakleigh about 2am on Thursday. It is expected to be linked to Victoria’s tit-for-tat arson attacks.
An empty shop next to the tobacco store was set alight in Oakleigh two weeks ago.Credit: Wayne Taylor
Fire from a torched car spread to neighbouring shops and severely burnt the tobacco shop. Earlier this month, on September 6, the same tobacco shop avoided major damage when an empty shop next door was set alight.
Emergency services said no one was inside the building at the time of the arson attack and no one was injured in the fire.
Victoria Police deemed the fire as suspicious and arson squad specialists were investigating the crime scene on Thursday morning.
Middle Eastern organised crime entities and motorcycle gangs have been linked to more than a dozen arson attacks on tobacconists dating back to March, as they battle for control of the lucrative illegal tobacco trade.
Store owners who refused to be extorted or set up their businesses in areas controlled by gangs have had their shops torched. Four people linked to the Finks bikie gang were charged as part of the investigation last month.
Police say they are closing in on ringleaders of the gangland warfare after tobacco stores were set alight across Melbourne, as well as in regional areas, including Wodonga and Wangaratta.
Arson and Explosive Squad Detective Acting Inspector Mark Kennedy said police were scrutinising the criminal syndicates linked to illicit tobacco.
“We believe we know who the main players are in these syndicates and we are doing everything we can to target them,” Kennedy said.
“While we have arrested a number of people already, we will relentlessly keep working our way up until we get all the way to the top of these organised crime groups.”
A spokesperson for Fire Rescue Victoria said firefighters arrived at Station Street in Oakleigh on Thursday within minutes of receiving the first report of the fire, finding “a car had impacted the two-storey shop.”
“Concern was immediately raised for residents living above the shop and a search by firefighters confirmed none were present.
“A rolling fire was occurring along the shopfront and underneath the awning of three shops in total. The fire took over 30 minutes to bring under control.”
Commander Andrew Thorn praised the efforts of crews in containing the fire and minimising the damage to the shops.
Detectives are appealing for anyone in the area who may have CCTV or dash cam footage of the incident.
Police have urged anyone with information to the Station Street incident to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report at www.crimestoppers.com.au
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