Crowds pay trib­ute to Mel­bourne ter­ror vic­tim

Gulf Times - - ASIA/AUSTRALASIA -

Hollywood su­per­star Rus­sell Crowe led trib­utes yes­ter­day to “true gen­tle­man” 74-year-old Sisto Malaspina, a doyen of Mel­bourne’s thriv­ing cafe cul­ture who was stabbed to death in Fri­day’s rush hour ter­ror at­tack.

As crowds gath­ered at Malaspina’s “Pel­le­grini” cafe to lay flow­ers and to­kens of remembrance, Aus­tralian act­ing leg­end Crowe led a flood of trib­utes on­line.

“Il mio cuore si spezza” (my heart is bro­ken) he wrote on Twit­ter in Malaspina’s na­tive Ital­ian.

“I’ve been go­ing to Pel­le­grini’s since 1987. Never been to Mel­bourne with­out drop­ping in on my man Sisto... My sweet loyal friend, stabbed in the street by a mad man.”

Mel­bourne is Aus­tralia’s sec­ond largest city, a thriv­ing cos­mopoli­tan me­trop­o­lis of al­most 5mn peo­ple famed for its cafes, bars, restau­rants and high stan­dard of liv­ing.

Op­po­si­tion leader Bill Shorten, who is from the city and has been vis­it­ing Malaspina’s cafe since his school­boy days, de­scribed the mur­der of Mel­bourne’s adopted son as “shock­ing, un­real and heart­break­ing.”

“I just saw Sisto on Mon­day morn­ing. He in­sisted I try a slice of his al­mond cake. He’s a Mel­bourne icon and a true gen­tle­man.”

Two other men wounded in the at­tack are still be­ing treated and are ex­pected to make a re­cov­ery.

It was an­other for­eign-born res­i­dent of the city, So­mali-born Aus­tralian, Has­san Khalif Shire Ali, who car­ried out the deadly knife ram­page.

The 30-year-old fled with his fam­ily from war-rav­aged So­mali to Aus­tralia as a child in the 1980s.

He was killed on Fri­day af­ter­noon af­ter driv­ing a 4x4 laden with gas cylin­ders into the city cen­tre and stab­bing three passersby be­fore be­ing con­fronted by mem­bers of the pub­lic and armed of­fi­cers who even­tu­ally shot him in the chest.

Un­con­firmed lo­cal me­dia re­ports sug­gested he may also have had prob­lems with sub­stance abuse and men­tal health is­sues.

But he was known by in­tel­li­gence ser­vices to hold ex­trem­ist views and for now the au­thor­i­ties are treat­ing the at­tack as a ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent.

They have ques­tioned around 35 peo­ple who saw the day­time at­tack, which although crude, was said to have been de­signed to “cause ter­ror and cause max­i­mum ca­su­al­ties” in the heart of Mel­bourne.

Armed of­fi­cers raided two ad­dresses in the west and north­east of the city, linked to the per­pe­tra­tor’s fam­ily and as­so­ci­ates, although there is not thought to be an on­go­ing threat.

Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties now face dif­fi­cult ques­tions about how Shire Ali, who was known to the Aus­tralian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Or­gan­i­sa­tion for at least three years, was able to carry out an at­tack.

He had his Aus­tralian pass­port re­voked in 2015 amid fears he was try­ing to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group.

His brother will go on trial next year on sep­a­rate ter­ror-re­lated charges - ac­cused of try­ing to ac­quire a firearm and kill peo­ple in a New Years’ Eve crowd.

“The as­sess­ment was made that whilst he had rad­i­calised views he didn’t pose a threat to the na­tional se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment,” Ian Mccart­ney, a fed­eral po­lice coun­tert­er­ror­ism official said of Shire Ali.

Mccart­ney de­scribed the at­tack as a “wake up call” even as IS loses ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, where Aus­tralian forces are part of a coali­tion fight­ing the group.

“The cir­cum­stances of how he and when he moved from hav­ing these rad­i­calised views to car­ry­ing out this at­tack yes­ter­day will be a key fo­cus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Mccart­ney added.

IS - which of­ten claims re­spon­si­bil­ity for such at­tacks said via its pro­pa­ganda arm that the per­pe­tra­tor was an “Islamic State fighter and car­ried out the op­er­a­tion.”

It pro­vided no ev­i­dence to back its claim.

Wit­ness Chris Newport, 60, who also moved to Mel­bourne decades ago from over­seas, de­scribed how he had been re­turn­ing from a job in­ter­view when he heard a loud noise and saw a truck on fire, rolling across the tram tracks be­fore a sec­ond, louder bang.

Po­lice said that Shire Ali’s im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice was made up of gas cylin­ders and some form of lighter and “cer­tainly wasn’t so­phis­ti­cated”.

“In a split sec­ond ev­ery­thing changes” Newport said, de­scrib­ing Shire Ali man­i­cally bran­dish­ing a knife. “You can’t imag­ine some­one de­cid­ing to do that.”

Po­lice strug­gled for at least a minute to cor­ral the tow­er­ing man as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two of­fi­cers.

At least two mem­bers of the pub­lic stepped in to help po­lice. One man was armed with a cafe chair while an­other - swiftly dubbed an “Aussie hero” on so­cial me­dia - re­peat­edly tried to ram the sus­pect with an empty metal shop­ping cart.

Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said the coun­try would be un­flinch­ing in the fight against “rad­i­cal, vi­o­lent... ex­trem­ist Is­lam that op­poses our very way of life”.

Shire Ali “sought to in­stil fear in our na­tion. Like those who tried be­fore him, this ter­ror­ist failed,” he said.

He cited more than a dozen foiled ter­ror plots as ev­i­dence that Aus­tralians could have faith in their coun­tert­er­ror­ism au­thor­i­ties.

Aus­tralia’s leader of the op­po­si­tion Bill Shorten signs a con­do­lence book at a me­mo­rial for Sisto Malaspina out­side Pel­le­grini’s Es­presso Bar in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day.

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