PM blames re­li­gious ex­trem­ism in Mel­bourne man’s ram­page

New Straits Times - - NEWS / NATION -

AMAN who set fire to a truck laden with gas cylin­ders in the city cen­tre here and stabbed one per­son to death was in­spired by the Islamic State, but did not have direct links with the group, po­lice said yes­ter­day.

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

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

IS claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which came two days be­fore Re­mem­brance Day, mark­ing 100 years since the end of World War 1.

“I think it is fair to say he (Shire Ali) was in­spired. He was rad­i­calised,” said Fed­eral Po­lice Act­ing Deputy Com­mis­sioner Ian McCart­ney.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said the na­tional ter­ror­ism ad­vi­sory re­mained at “prob­a­ble”, the mid­point of a five-tier sys­tem, and said 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 evening rush hour and lasted only min­utes. Shire Ali stabbed by­standers and at­tacked po­lice while his util­ity truck car­ry­ing bar­be­cue gas cylin­ders burned in 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 the vic­tim was a 74year-old man who worked in the city. The man’s busi­ness part­ner iden­ti­fied him as Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of Pel­le­grini’s Bar, 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 yes­ter­day.

“This shouldn’t hap­pen in a city like Mel­bourne. I just want to for­get it,” said one wit­ness.

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 con­nec­tion with the at­tack.

At one, a mod­est one-storey house on the city’s western fringe, armed of­fi­cers stood guard out­side. Bourke Street was also re­opened yes­ter­day with in­creased po­lice pres­ence.

Vic­to­ria Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton said there was no warn­ing of the 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.

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