‘I.S. LINK IN AUSSIE ATTACK’
PM blames religious extremism in Melbourne man’s rampage
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.