Hor­ror re­turns to CBD as Christ­mas nears

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - CHIP LE GRAND

On the day that Christ­mas fes­tiv­i­ties were to for­mally be­gin in Mel­bourne, death re­turned to Bourke Street.

Only this time, the hor­rific scenes were broad­cast all but live on so­cial me­dia, as images of a flam­ing util­ity, a knife-wield­ing at­tacker and a po­lice shot fired at point-blank range were up­loaded by ter­ri­fied shop­pers and city work­ers.

How it be­gan is less clear than how it ended.

It is about 4.10pm on a Fri­day. Peo­ple are knock­ing off work a lit­tle early. Some are al­ready head­ing out on the town.

The city is bub­bling with the end of the spring rac­ing car­ni­val and the first blush of the hol­i­day sea­son. Myer is due to un­veil its Christ­mas win­dows in a few hours. In­stead, there is chaos. The first we see is a slow-mov­ing image of a dark-blue Holden Rodeo ute, its twin cab spew­ing flames and smoke, ghost­ing down the Bourke Street hill to­wards the pedes­trian mall where Dim­itri Gar­ga­soulas al­legedly be­gan his homi­ci­dal ram­page nearly two years ago. By the time we see the burn­ing ve­hi­cle come to a rest at the kerb, its driver’s door flung open, by the time wit­nesses hear gas cylin­ders ex­plod­ing, the worst has hap­pened. The driver has al­ready killed.

Alex Dick­in­son was on his way to the hair­dresser when the at­tack un­folded. He watched a man ap­proach the burn­ing ute, per­haps to see if any­one was trapped in­side. He watched a tall, dark-skinned man sud­denly emerge, a kitchen knife in his hand. Be­fore the by­stander knew what was hap­pen- ing, the driver plunged the blade into his chest. The man stum­bled for a cou­ple of steps and then col­lapsed on the bi­tu­men. He bled to death, face down on the ground.

He will never know it but his ac­tions may well have dis­rupted a far worse ter­ror at­tack.

An­other man was stabbed in the neck. Cov­ered in blood, he was seen run­ning up the Bourke Street hill be­fore he, too, col­lapsed on the ground. He was rushed to hos­pi­tal. So far, he has sur­vived. A third per­son was also stabbed and taken to hos­pi­tal.

By the time po­lice con­front the at­tacker, Bourke Street is bed­lam. From mul­ti­ple videos cap­tured on mo­bile phones, we see the man lung­ing at of­fi­cers with the knife. We see civil­ians join­ing the fight. One is armed with a shop­ping trol­ley, an­other with a chair.

The man with the trol­ley tries to ram the at­tacker but trips over his own feet, send­ing the trol­ley crash­ing to the ground, its wheels spin­ning. He gets up, up­rights the trol­ley and sends it bar­relling back into the fra­cas. An­other man rushes to­wards the at­tacker with a chair raised over his head.

The at­tacker, how­ever, is fix­ated on two of­fi­cers who are try­ing to get him away from shop­pers. He lunges at one three times, the knife gripped in his right hand, slash­ing down­wards. The of­fi­cer raises his arm to pro­tect him­self.

When the at­tacker turns to the sec­ond of­fi­cer, he looks straight down the bar­rel of a semi-au­to­matic Glock hand­gun.

The videos don’t cap­ture what the po­lice­man says but, what­ever his in­struc­tions, the at­tacker is deaf to rea­son. He raises the knife again, the of­fi­cer shoots him in the chest from less than a me­tre away.

The crack of gun­fire brings screams from shop­pers. The im­pact of the bul­let knocks the at­tacker off his feet. An un­marked po­lice car ar­rives, and the at­tacker is dis­armed and hogtied by two plain­clothes of­fi­cers. He is taken into cus­tody but doesn’t sur­vive his wounds.

Daniel Rach­buch, a com­merce stu­dent who hap­pened to be walk­ing through the city when the car­nage un­folded, cap­tured the at­tacker’s con­fronta­tion with po­lice on his mo­bile phone from about 20m away. He heard him yelling at the po­lice of­fi­cers but couldn’t make out what he said.

Rach­buch was in Barcelona last Au­gust when Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, drove a van down La Ram­bla, killing 13 peo­ple. He has now wit­nessed ter­ror in the heart of Mel­bourne.

“It makes me think that we need to put the right block­ades in place where a lot of civil­ians walk be­cause the way the world is mov­ing, it’s scary to say the least,’’ he says. “We need to do the best we can to de­fend good cit­i­zens.’’

Bourke Street is al­ready a fortress of ve­hi­cle-stop­ping bol­lards. What­ever weak­nesses there were in the city’s de­fences in Jan­uary 2017, when Bourke Street hosted its first deadly ram­page, they have since been bol­stered.

As Christ­mas nears, all ma­jor Aus­tralian and Euro­pean ci­ties ap­proach peak ter­ror sea­son. Not for the first time, and most likely not for the last time, Mel­bourne is left scram­bling to make sense of ran­dom mur­der in its streets.


Clock­wise from main: The at­tacker clutches his chest in the split sec­ond af­ter a po­lice of­fi­cer opens fire to bring the Bourke Street car­nage to an end; spe­cial op­er­a­tions po­lice ar­rive; a man is treated by am­bu­lance of­fi­cers; a body lies in the street af­ter the at­tack. Be­low, paramedics treat the at­tacker

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