A recent terrorist attack on Melbourne’s CBD has prompted a “reality check” for Australian police. A lone wolf terrorist, identified as Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, was inspired by Islamic State ideology. Shire Ali drove his 4×4 vehicle filled with bottles of gas throughout Bourke Street in the CBD around 4.30pm. He then set his vehicle on fire and proceeded to stab three people. Police, who were quick to act, responded by shooting Shire Ali, who later died in hospital. The three victims were restaurant owner Sisto Malaspina, who was confirmed dead at 6pm, as well as two injured victims, including Rod Patterson and a young security guard, who are both recovering in hospital.
The acting Deputy Commissioner for National Security, Ian McCartney stated that “The event yesterday for us is a reality check, even with the fall of the (ISIS) caliphate […] the threat continues to be real.” Security officials stated that the attacker was not actively monitored by ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organization) prior to the attack as he was not considered a real danger to society. According to McCartney, although Shire Ali held radicalized views, he did not pose a threat to national security as he was not expected to act on them.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding the attack has been regarding Islam. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, blamed the attack on religious extremism on Saturday and stated that Australia was at risk from “radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam.” He then went on to say that “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.” However, it was never proven to be an IS orchestrated event, especially when IS is known to take ownership of attacks which fit their ideology.
To follow up on the attack, police conducted searches on two homes within Melbourne’s western suburbs on Saturday. The attacker came to Australia from Somalia in the 1990s, however Shire Ali’s passport was cancelled in 2015. ASIO had kept a watch on Shire Ali, however he was not considered a significant threat. Therefore, the next step in the investigation has been investigating how the radicalized views brought him to organize the attack. By understanding how the attacker moved to the planning stage of the attack, security officials can begin to stop future attacks like this one. One safety measure which has been set up is additional security at crowded events such as Stake Day races at Flemington, as well as an upcoming soccer match. During this time it is also important that media and police are not creating division in society by isolating Muslim minorities. This attack has been difficult for all Australians, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
In the event of a terrorist attack, Australians are reminded of the importance of remaining united, especially when radical attacks aim to divide. The lengths in which the community has come together to commemorate this tragedy, is a hopeful reminder of compassion among Australian citizens. The media has a responsibility to not create panic surrounding Islamic extremism; instead, during this time, unity, love and strength must be promoted.
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