Australian police search properties after Melbourne attack
- Two houses searched after 31-year-old man set fire to a vehicle laden with gas cylinders in city centre then went on stabbing spree before being shot by police
Australian counterterrorism investigators were searching two properties in suburban Melbourne on Saturday morning, the day after a man killed one person in what authorities said was a terrorist attack in the city.
Police identified the attacker as 30-year-old Hassan Khalif Shire Ali and said his brother was arrested last year on charges of planning an attack in Melbourne.
Shire Ali set fire to a pickup truck laden with gas cylinders in the centre of Melbourne on Friday and stabbed three people, killing one – popular restaurant owner Sisto Malaspina – before he was shot by police.
“Joint Counter Terrorism Team investigators are executing search warrants at two addresses in Werribee and Meadows Heights this morning” Victoria police said in a statement.
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Earlier, Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said in a television interview that Shire Ali was known to authorities because of his brother, and also had driving, theft and cannabis offences.
“He is certainly someone who is known to both us and the federal authorities in relation to counterterrorism and terrorism-related matters,” he told Channel 7’s Sunrise programme. “He is the brother of an offender or a suspect that we arrested late last year in relation to the preparation of a terrorist event.”
His brother was arrested in a dramatic raid last November. Police said at the time they believed he was an Islamic State sympathiser and was planning an attack Melbourne’s central Federation Square on New Year’s Eve in 2017. He is in jail awaiting trial.
Police said the Muslim brothers were from a Somalian family that moved to Australia in the 1990s.
The family regularly prayed at the Virgin Mary mosque, which is part of the Werribee Islamic Centre.
Spokesman for the centre Rifai Raheem said Shire Ali’s father – a retired taxi driver – was a “good person … very nice and helpful”.
“There’s no history of wrong doing,” he said.
Raheem said everyone who knew the family was shocked and felt hatred towards Shire Ali for bringing their faith into disrepute.
“They’re all very angry … because it brings a bad impact to the community,” he said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, but that could not be substantiated.
The attack began just before the evening rush hour and lasted only minutes. While the utility truck carrying barbecue gas cylinders burned on busy Bourke Street, Shire Ali stabbed bystanders and attacked police.
The cylinders did not explode and the fire was put out in 10 minutes, at which point the attack was over, though not before one man was fatally stabbed.
Video posted to Twitter and broadcast on television showed the man swinging a knife at two police officers, before he collapsed when one shot him in the chest. He later died in hospital.
Bourke Street reopened on Saturday morning with an increased police presence in the area.
Ashton said there was no warning of the latest attack and no longer a threat to the public, but security would be boosted at horse races and Remembrance Day memorials over the weekend.
Additional reporting by The Guardian