Melbourne knife attacker named as known extremist

November 10, 2018

MELBOURNE -- A Somali-born Australian who carried out a deadly knife rampage in Melbourne held extremist views and was known to intelligence services, authorities said Saturday, as they carried out raids and interviewed dozens of witnesses.

Australian Federal Police said 30-year-old Hassan Khalif Shire Ali -- who was shot dead after driving a 4x4 laden with gas cylinders into the city centre and stabbing three people -- fled to Australia as a child with his family in the 1980s.

He stabbed three people before being confronted by members of the public and armed officers who eventually shot him in the chest. One of his victims died at the scene while two others were wounded.

Authorities have questioned around 35 people who saw the rush hour attack, which although crude, was said to have been designed to “cause terror and cause maximum casualties” in the heart Australia’s bustling second city.

Armed officers raided two addresses in the west and northeast of the city, linked to the perpetrator’s family and associates, although there is not thought to be an ongoing threat.

The man killed by Shire Ali was named by local media as 74-year-old Sisto Malaspina, an icon of Melbourne’s thriving culinary culture who ran a famous Italian cafe.

Two other men wounded in the attack are still being treated but are expected to make a recovery.

Difficult questions

Australian authorities now face difficult questions about how Shire Ali, who was known to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization for at least three years, was able to carry out an attack.

He had his Australian passport revoked in 2015 amid fears he was trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group.

His brother will go on trial next year on separate terror-related charges -- accused of trying to acquire a firearm and kill people in a New Years’ Eve crowd.

“The assessment was made that whilst he had radicalized views he didn’t pose a threat to the national security environment,” Ian Mccartney, a federal police counterterrorism official said of Shire Ali.

Mccartney described the attack as a “wake up call” even as the Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria, where Australian forces are part of a coalition fighting the group.

“The circumstances of how he and when he moved from having these radicalized views to carrying out this attack yesterday will be a key focus of the investigation,” Mccartney added.

The Islamic State group -- which often claims responsibility for such attacks  -- said via its propaganda arm that the perpetrator was an “Islamic State fighter and carried out the operation.”

It provided no evidence to back its claim.

Witness footage showed police struggling for at least a minute to corral the towering man as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two officers. At least two members of the public stepped in to help police. One man was armed with a cafe chair while another -- swiftly dubbed an “Aussie hero” on social media  -- repeatedly tried to ram the suspect with an empty metal shopping cart.