29-year-old Somali refugee Yacub Khayre took a hostage, killed a man, and wounded three police officers in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday. He explicitly dedicated the attack to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The Islamic State swiftly claimed him as a “soldier” of the caliphate.
Khayre, who was on parole for a 2012 home invasion, disabled his GPS tracking bracelet to conceal his position from the police. He contacted a “sex worker” and arranged for her to meet him at an upscale apartment building in an affluent Melbourne suburb called Brighton. When he arrived at the building, he murdered the concierge with a shotgun, took the escort hostage, and began a two-hour standoff with police. Eventually, he came out of the apartment shooting, wounding three police officers before he was brought down. His hostage escaped unharmed.
The concierge Khayre murdered was a 36-year-old Chinese-born Australian, described as a recently married father of one.
Police chief Graham Ashton speculated that Khayre planned the kidnapping with an eye toward luring police officers into an ambush, admitting that “we still don’t know exactly whether that was the case.”
If so, Khayre was following the Islamic State’s handbook for “lone wolf” jihadis. In May, the ISIS magazine Rumiyah published tutorials that advised luring victims into hostage and murder situations with commercial advertisements and then contacting the authorities to identify themselves as “soldiers of the Islamic State.” Martyrdom by police shooting was presented as the ideal outcome of such an operation.
The UK Daily Mail notes that ISIS publications have also taught jihadis on parole how to disable their GPS ankle bracelets.
Khayre made phone calls to police and the media during the siege. Australia’s Seven Network reported receiving a phone call from a woman who claimed to be the hostage. A man took over the call and said, “This is for IS, this is for al-Qaeda.”
“The attack in Melbourne, Australia was carried out by a soldier of the Islamic State in response to the call for targeting the subjects of the coalition states,” the Islamic State announced through its Amaq news service.
Khayre was the quintessential “known wolf,” a well-known security risk whose parole, and for that matter continued presence in Australia, is creating confusion and anger.
“How was this man on parole? He had a long record of violence. He was known to have connections, at least in the past, with violent extremism,” asked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“More investigations and explanations will be given but it is plainly – it is very hard, I think – to understand why he was released on parole given the nature of his record and the nature of his offence,” Turnbull added.
While reviews of the parole system have been promised, officials insist Khayre was “compliant, including drug tests, attending appointments, and observing a curfew,” as Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews put it.
Khyre was not a recent arrival to Australia. His family fled Somalia as refugees when he was three years old in 1991. He seems to have gotten along well in school until the death of his grandfather around 2006, at which point he embarked upon a criminal career that included holding up a train with a knife in 2007, stabbing a man in the process.
By the end of 2007, Khayre racked up over 40 counts of burglary, theft, assault, and resisting arrest, earning him two years in juvenile detention.
He was charged with participating in an Islamist suicide plot to attack an Australian army barracks and use machine guns to murder as many soldiers as possible in 2009. The attack was intended as revenge for Australia’s participation in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and for Australia’s alleged oppression of Muslims. The conspirators took inspiration from al-Qaeda’s allies in Somalia, al-Shabaab. They actually got in touch with al-Shabaab imams in Somalia at one point to secure a fatwa (clerical order) to authorize the attack. Khayre traveled to Somalia to pick up the fatwa and receive training at al-Shabaab camps.
The plan was foiled with a massive surveillance operation by Australian police called Operation Neath, but Khayre and one of the other five conspirators were acquitted by a jury in 2010. The verdict came despite Khayre’s defense team admitting he was sending money to support Islamists in Somalia.
The judge denounced their plan as “evil,” told the men they should hang their heads in shame for betraying Australia’s hospitality, and gave 18-year jail sentences to the other three aspiring jihadis. Police were reportedly “gutted” (extremely disappointed) when Khayre walked free.
Amazingly, he dropped off the counterterrorism radar after that, evidently judged a loser who could not attract serious attention from al-Shabaab or al-Qaeda. He did not make a good impression on al-Shabaab when he visited Somalia, repeatedly running away from the training camps. In one of the phone calls intercepted by Operation Neath, an exasperated Somali militant tells the ringleader of the Australian terror cell that Khayre was “empty-headed and wandering around,” making him “a risk to you, us, and the whole thing.”
Fifteen months after his acquittal on terrorism charges, Khayre got high on methamphetamines and broke into a Melbourne apartment, armed with a knife and a blowtorch. While he was ransacking the home of valuables, a young woman came home from a late night of partying and stumbled upon the burglar, to their profound mutual surprise. After they both got finished screaming, Khayre punched the woman in the face, shoulders, stomach, and back, then punched and head-butted her father when he came to investigate the commotion. The father and daughter managed to overpower Khayre and literally sit on him until the police took him into custody.
After pleading guilty to aggravated burglary, theft, intentionally and recklessly causing injury, and giving a false name to the authorities in October 2013, Khayre received a 66-month sentence including three years without parole.
During his trial, he claimed that his temporary detention on terrorism charges in 2009 had a “deleterious effect” upon him, driving him to petty crime and drug abuse. The judge countered that his violent home invasion robbery traumatized the young woman so severely that she was forced to move out of her home and abandon her college studies, losing “a year of her life that she will never get back” along with her “dream job.”
This was the crime he was on parole for at the time he launched his terrorist attack. Although his early relationship with his parents is described as “difficult,” he was living with his mother. Her home in Roxburgh Park became the scene of a large police raid after the attack. Her neighbors expressed astonishment that Khayre died while carrying out a terrorist attack or that he was a suspect in one of the largest terrorist operations to be thwarted by Australian police.