A celebrity chauffeur gunned down in a hail of bullets in front of his young son could have been killed in a case of mistaken identity, according to police.
Taha Sabbagh, 40, was shot dead outside the Elite Fight Force gym on Carlingford Street, in Sefton, western Sydney, about 6.30am on Thursday.
The celebrity chauffeur was drinking coffee while dropping off his 12-year-old at the gym when at least two gunmen opened fire at the black Mercedes SUV.
Sabbagh wrapped his arms around his son sitting next to him in the front passenger seat to protect him from the bullets.
The boy then ran from the scene to get help for his dad who died at the scene.
Police said the shooting had the hallmarks of a ‘targeted organised crime murder’ and that while Sabbagh not well known to police, he mixed in underworld circles.
They’re still investigating whether the shooting was linked to Sabbagh’s associations and haven’t ruled out it may have been a case of mistaken identity.
‘We believe whilst he (Sabbagh) was relatively not well known to police, he was associated with people who are well known to police,’ NSW Police Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said
‘It was callous and brazen and (the shooter) had little regard for human life.’
Detectives believe they are hunting two gunmen who used a Mazda 3 as their getaway car, before it was later found burnt out in a nearby suburb.
Doherty said the incident was ‘very traumatising’ for the boy.
‘It is horrendous a 12-year-old had to witness his father being shot dead in this manner,’ Det Supt Doherty said.
Mr Sabbagh’s uncle Nasser Sabbagh told Daily Mail Australia the luxury car driver wrapped his arms around his son to protect him as he was shot.
‘Why do people kill other people?’ he asked. ‘He’s a good man. Quiet man. No criminal record. He goes to work. Spends time with his kids.’
Another relative said he wanted Mr Sabbagh to be remembered as a ‘father, brother, uncle, and cousin’.
The proud dad’s last social media post on Wednesday evening showed his 12-year-old boy practicing punching, blocking and dodging with a trainer.
Later in the afternoon, friends and family flocked to Mr Sabbagh’s home as they come to terms with his death
Distraught loved ones hugged and consoled each other as they congregated in separate groups, spilling out onto the street
Two white marquees were set up on the driveway as men and women sat beneath on the many plastic chairs scattered across the front yard
A witness heard at least six shots fired and the sound of a car screeching away. The Mazda 3 was later found burnt out at nearby Birrong Train Station.
Paramedics desperately tried to revive Mr Sabbagh, who was a regular at the MMA gym. He was unable to be saved and died at the scene.
Later in the afternoon family and friends flocked to Mr Sabbagh’s home as they came to terms with his death.
The tiny residential street was teeming with cars as loved ones arrived to pay their respects before consoling each other and departing.
Two white marquees were set up on the driveway as men and women sat beneath on the many plastic chairs scattered across the front yard.
Distraught loved ones hugged and consoled each other as they congregated in separate groups, spilling out onto the street.
One man dabbed his face with a tissue, while a woman wrapped her arm around another woman’s shoulder as they walked towards the house.
The tiny residential street was teeming with cars as loved ones arrived to pay their respects before consoling each other and departing
Taha Sabbagh, 40, with his children next to the black Mercedes he was shot dead while dropping his eldest son off at a gym session
First on the scene after Mr Sabbagh was shot was a man named Steve who heard six gunshots as he worked in an office across the road.
‘I heard the shots and ran over and the young fella, his son, was screaming ‘help my dad’s been shot’,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I looked inside and there was a man in front of the car, bleeding and slumped over the console. Someone had obviously shot him, there was blood everywhere.’
Steve said despite being shot up to six times, Mr Sabbagh appeared to still be alive.
‘Within minutes there was police and ambulance everywhere, it was a pretty hectic sight,’ he said.
‘They were working on him for a while.’
Mr Sabbagh was a top driver for several luxury chauffeur services around Sydney, regularly ferrying high-level clients to meetings and parties, and cashed-up couples to weddings.
Mr Sabbagh was a top driver for several luxury chauffeur services around Sydney, regularly ferrying high-level clients to meetings and parties (including social media star Hasbulla)
How the brutal gang hit unfolded outside the gym before the car was burned
NSW Police Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said the shooting was believed to be a ‘targeted attack’ but whether he was ‘the intended target’ would be investigated.
‘He was not well known to police, he was associated with some people who are well known to police and have strong criminal activity connected to them,’ he told reporters.
Friends of the luxury car driver are convinced he was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.
He once drove social media star Hasbulla and shared photos of MMA stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev, and YouTuber Logan Paul.
‘He’s been with us since the start, almost four years now,’ the owner of one of the companies said.
‘He’s one of the best guys I know, always happy, always smiling.
‘He was our best, always opening the door, bringing an umbrella when it was raining – an all-round nice guy. It’s a tragedy.’
The businessman said Mr Sabbagh was so reliable he was trusted with the firm’s top clients, and couldn’t have been mixed up in organised crime.
‘It’s very shocking, we’d never expect anything like this to happen to someone like him,’ he said.
Mr Sabbagh’s car after the shooting on Thursday morning was a tarp covering his body nearby
Police comfort a young boy, believed to be Mr Sabbagh’s 12-year-old son
The Mazda 3 used in the shooting was later found burnt out at the nearby Birrong Train Station
A police source gave a grim warning of further bloodshed on the streets of suburban Sydney following the shooting.
‘It will get much worse now after this. It always does,’ they said.
A dozens-strong group, many wearing high-vis shirts and workwear, arrived at the street about 9am, agitated and demanding to know what happened.
Some cried and held each other at the sight of the bullet-riddled black Mercedes SUV Mr Sabbagh was sitting in when he was shot at least six times.
Others clashed with police until the crowd was dispersed by officers and they left the area.
Mustafa Nashar, a friend of Mr Sabbagh, shared a heartfelt tribute to the 40-year-old: ‘(He was) a beautiful person who’s life was taken mistakenly and undeservedly.’
Another loved one added: ‘Taha was a loving son, brother, father, husband, he was loved by many. He will be missed greatly by all who knew him.’
Mr Sabbagh recently shared a photo of children with Logan Paul to his Instagram
Distressed family and friends flooded the street where he was gunned down in a gangland ambush at his gym in western Sydney
Muslim preacher Mohamed Shaar said there had been ‘another soul killed right at our door step’.
‘Killed in front of his kid what a shame this world is so evil,’ he said.
A witness, David, said he was in his workshop at the time when he heard the gunshots, which he initially thought was just a car backfiring.
‘Within minutes there was a load of ambulances and police everywhere and we saw a man on the ground not in a good way,’ he told 2GB radio. ‘It was frightening.’
David said he initially heard about five loud bangs before hearing a car speed off. He then heard another series of shots.
The gym posted a message to Instagram on Thursday morning, announcing it would be closed.
‘Asalamu alaykum (peace be with you in Arabic),’ the message began.
‘We are very sorry for any inconvenience. Elite Force Force will be closed today and all classes will be cancelled for the day.
‘Please bear with us and stay updated with our stories for any new announcements.’
Emergency services are seen outside the gym on Thursday morning
Daily Mail Australia understands the gym wasn’t open at the time. Pictured are members of the gym
The gym was not open at the time, except for private appointments like the one Mr Sabbagh arranged for his son.
The gym received high praise from members who described it as having ‘world class facilities and trainers’ and classes for all ages.
‘The best MMA gym in Sydney,’ one wrote in a review.
‘Also has the best bantamweight fighter there.
‘Definitely recommended for anyone looking to get fit or self defense or even pursuing a career in combat sports.’
Another person said the business was the ‘most disciplined mixed martial arts gym’ in the city.
‘The owners and trainers treat you like family as soon as you enter in the door,’ they said.
Children had been training at the gym on Wednesday evening – mere hours before the shooting took place.