How federal cops missed their moment to stop Curtis Cheng’s murder
FOR anyone who thinks the judiciary too sympathetic to offenders, take comfort in the remarks of NSW Supreme Court Justice Peter Johnson, who on Thursday put Raban Alou away for 33 years for supplying the gun that killed police worker Curtis Cheng.
Yet hanging in the periphery of the judge’s uncompromising sentence are the phantoms of the Australian Federal Police, who had Alou under blanket surveillance in the lead-up to Cheng’s 2015 execution. The AFP’s decision to stand back, even though they were monitoring real-time conversations between Alou and others, and used drones to observe a meeting in which Alou received the gun, appears a tragic — if understandable — misjudgment.
At the time, the AFP knew almost nothing about Farhad and his sister, Shadi Mohammad, 21, who is blamed for her brother’s radicalisation. She flew out to Turkey the day before the killing, fully aware of what was to happen. She was not stopped from leaving because she wasn’t in their sights.
But they knew plenty about Alou, having fitted a listening device in his vehicle.
The AFP was monitoring Alou on a menacing pro-ISIS Whatsapp forum, and they knew he’d been trying (unsuccessfully) to get someone to make him an IS flag, no doubt to display in an attack.
They were also aware Alou was trying to get a gun. He and others — including Talal Alameddine, 25, who had been subject to a firearms prohibition order — were in regular discussion. It was clear an event was imminent.
On October 1, the day be-
fore the murder, Alou was exchanging radical messages and pushing hard to get a gun.
On the morning of October 2, Alou was heard telling his wife Sharna Perger (they had married recently in an Islamic ceremony but did not live together): “It’s got to be done”; and “whatever I do [Allah] will accept it”. At 1.36pm, officers heard Alameddine — who has pleaded guilty to supplying the gun and is currently facing sentence — telling Alou: “I brang the 30 cal bro”.
Alou and Alameddine met, engaged in conversations and were seen in a number of switches, perhaps to throw off surveillance, but which the judge said “involved the supply of the Smith & Wesson .38”.
Alou was also heard at this time talking to another (unnamed) person on the phone: “You know I told you when he’s going to ‘thing’, did I tell you where [indistinct]. But it will affect, the brother, Parra, affect the masjid [mosque], mine, it will affect me…” Still, authorities held back. At 3.05pm, Alou met Farhad and others at the Parramatta Mosque. At 3.48pm, Alou went to his car, got the gun and handed it to Farhad in the female prayer room.
It is understood from someone close to the case that the handover of the gun by was not seen live by the AFP, but gleaned afterwards from CCTV. Farhad then walked to police HQ and killed Cheng.
The surveillance officers knew Alou was in possession of a weapon but, given his activities, it is possible to speculate what happened: they thought Alou himself was to conduct an attack, and were ready to jump on him.
What they didn’t know was that Alou — along with Farhad’s sister Shadi, later killed in a drone strike in Syria — had been indoctrinating Farhad to kill a police officer.
On the morning of the murder, Alou spent two hours in the mosque talking in Farhad’s ear, preparing him to kill and be killed. The judge said Alou was “prepared to exploit a young person as the perpetrator of a terrorist act in the knowledge that it was planned to kill a person or persons in the street, and that there was every prospect that Farhad Mohammad himself would die, as indeed happened.”
And he had words for Alou’s accomplice, the dead Shadi, saying decent people would struggle “to understand the twisted and evil minds at work where a 21-year-old woman is prepared to have her 15-year-old brother commit a homicidal atrocity in the likely knowledge that he would be captured or die in the process.
“Acts and thoughts of this type are the antithesis of civilised religious beliefs in a modern democratic society such as Australia.”