Mel­bourne po­lice see Islamic State ‘in­spi­ra­tion’ be­hind stab­bings

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By ME­LANIE BUR­TON and TOM WESTBROOK

MEL­BOURNE (Reuters) – An Aus­tralian man who set fire to a truck laden with gas cylin­ders in the cen­ter of Mel­bourne and stabbed one per­son to death was in­spired by Islamic State, but did not have direct links with the group, po­lice said on Satur­day.

Po­lice iden­ti­fied the man re­spon­si­ble for Fri­day’s at­tack as So­mali-born Has­san Khalif Shire Ali, 30, and said he was rad­i­cal­ized and in­spired by the mil­i­tant group’s pro­pa­ganda. He was shot by po­lice and died in hospi­tal.

Po­lice said Shire Ali’s Aus­tralian pass­port was can­celed in 2015 af­ter an in­tel­li­gence re­port said that he planned to travel to Syria, but an as­sess­ment was made that while he had rad­i­cal views, he posed no threat to na­tional se­cu­rity.

Islamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which came two days be­fore Re­mem­brance Day, mark­ing 100 years since the end of World War I, with­out pro­vid­ing any ev­i­dence.

“I think it is fair to say he [Shire Ali] was in­spired. He was rad­i­cal­ized,” Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice Act­ing Deputy Com­mis­sioner Ian McCart­ney told re­porters in Mel­bourne. “We’re not say­ing there was direct con­tact. We’re say­ing it was more from an in­spi­ra­tion per­spec­tive.”

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said the na­tional ter­ror­ism ad­vi­sory re­mained at “prob­a­ble,” the mid­point of a five-tier sys­tem, and told re­porters in Syd­ney that rad­i­cal Islam was the is­sue.

“I need to call it out. Rad­i­cal, vi­o­lent, ex­trem­ist Islam that op­poses our very way of life. I am the first to pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom in this coun­try, but that also means I must be the first to call out re­li­gious ex­trem­ism,” he said.

Fri­day’s at­tack be­gan just be­fore the evening rush hour and lasted only min­utes. Shire Ali stabbed by­standers and at­tacked po­lice while his util­ity truck car­ry­ing bar­be­cue gas cylin­ders burned on busy Bourke Street.

The cylin­ders did not ex­plode and the fire was put out in 10 min­utes, by which point the at­tack was over, though not be­fore one man was fa­tally stabbed.

Po­lice said he was a 74-year-old man who worked in the city, and did not re­lease his name.

The man’s busi­ness part­ner iden­ti­fied him as Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of Pel­le­grini’s Cafe, a Mel­bourne in­sti­tu­tion cred­ited with forg­ing the city’s fa­mous cof­fee cul­ture.

“Many, many tears have been shed,” the cafe’s co-owner, Nino Pan­grazio, told The Age news­pa­per, and cus­tomers laid flowers and writ­ten trib­utes out­side the cafe on Satur­day.

“This shouldn’t hap­pen in a city like Mel­bourne,” one wit­ness who had re­turned to the scene on Satur­day told Reuters, cry­ing. “I just want to for­get it,” she said.

Video posted to Twit­ter and broad­cast on tele­vi­sion showed Shire Ali swing­ing a knife at two po­lice of­fi­cers, while the truck burned in the back­ground, be­fore he col­lapsed when one shot him in the chest.

Vic­to­ria state po­lice said counter-ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tors were search­ing two prop­er­ties in sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne in con­nec­tion with the at­tack, but there was no im­me­di­ate word on what the searches yielded.

At one lo­ca­tion, a mod­est one-story brick house on the city’s western fringe, armed of­fi­cers wear­ing masks stood guard out­side. Bourke Street also re­opened on Satur­day, and a Reuters re­porter said there was an in­creased po­lice pres­ence in the area.

A staunch US ally, Aus­tralia has been on alert for such vi­o­lence af­ter a Syd­ney cafe siege in 2014, and its in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have stepped up scru­tiny. Vic­to­ria Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton said there was no warn­ing of the lat­est at­tack.

He said there was no longer a threat to the pub­lic, but that se­cu­rity would be boosted at horse races and Re­mem­brance Day memo­ri­als over the week­end.

Au­thor­i­ties say Aus­tralia’s vig­i­lance has helped foil at least a dozen plots, in­clud­ing a plan to at­tack Mel­bourne at Christ­mas in 2016 and a plan to blow up a flight from Syd­ney to Abu Dhabi us­ing a bomb dis­guised as a meat min­cer.

Two hostages were killed dur­ing the 17-hour Syd­ney cafe siege by a “lone wolf” gun­man who was in­spired by Islamic State mil­i­tants.

(Son­ali Paul/Reuters)

PO­LICE BLOCK part of Bourke Street mall in cen­tral Mel­bourne af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack there on Fri­day.

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