September 6, 2007
A group of Australian comedians, including one dressed as terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, have managed to penetrate the high-security lockdown in place in Sydney, where world leaders have gathered for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) talks. The security measures, the toughest ever imposed in Australia, include closing much of the city and erecting steel and concrete barriers around landmarks such as the Opera House. Snipers are in position on rooftops, counter-terrorism police have been deployed on the harbour and fighter jets patrol the skies while dignitaries, including US President George W Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, get down to the serious business of diplomacy. But eleven comedians, armed with a three black cars, two motorbikes, cheap Canadian flags and a lot of cheek, managed to beat security by convincing police they were an official motorcade carrying a Canadian delegation - despite the fact one was dressed as the world’s most wanted terrorist. The mischief-making comics from The Chaser, a popular skit programme broadcast on the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, took advantage of confusion among police as dozens of official motorcades criss-crossed the city. Officers waved them through at least one security barrier and by the time police realised they were patsy to a high-profile prank, the "motorcade" was on the same street as the hotel where Mr Bush was staying. The comedians were arrested and charged under special Apec laws, which prohibit entry into a restricted area without justification. While some frontline police officers saw the funny side of the stunt, laughing and joking with the de-bearded bin Laden impersonator, senior officials were not impressed. New South Wales police minister David Campbell said the prank was inappropriate and he "did not see the funny side at all". He denied he was embarrassed by the incident and attempted to put a rather humourless spin on the breach, saying he was pleased the "multi-layered" security had worked. The Chaser comedians are so notorious for their high jinks that police approached them before Apec and warned them against pulling a prank. In a finale to today’s stunt, the arrested comedians and their cars, which had been seized, enjoyed a high-speed ride to a Sydney police station in an official, seven-vehicle police motorcade. The irony will not escape them.