The Islamic State on Friday claimed responsibility for a knife rampage in Melbourne, Australia, that killed one person and wounded two others.
The attacker, reportedly a 31-year-old immigrant from Somalia, was described as an “Islamic State fighter” by the terrorist organization’s Amaq media wing. Australian authorities indicated the attack was “linked to terrorism” but have not yet confirmed an ISIS connection.
The attack was carried out on a busy downtown street during the late Friday afternoon rush hour by Melbourne time. According to police reports, the man jumped out of his truck, which caught fire, and began attacking random bystanders with a knife. When police responded to calls about the burning vehicle, the man brandished his knife and threatened them.
Police shot the man in the chest when he attacked them, at one point punching through the window of a vehicle. He reportedly died of his wounds at a local hospital. The police made a brave effort to talk him down while he slashed at them. One bystander tried to hold the knifeman at bay with a shopping cart, while others called for the police to shoot him.
The UK Daily Mail posted cell phone video of the assault, including shots of the burning truck and the assailant – a dark-skinned man with a shaved head, beard, brown tunic, and white pants – slashing madly at police officers:
The Daily Mail identified the attacker as Mohamed Khalif and said he also uses the name “Hassan Shire.” He is said to have emigrated from Somalia to Australia in the 1990s and accumulated a record of minor infractions such as “cannabis use, theft, and driving offenses.” Other members of his family were apparently of more urgent interest to the authorities:
Khalif’s 21-year-old brother, Ali Khalif Shire Ali, was arrested in November of 2017 in relation to a foiled terror attack in Federation Square, also in the heart of Melbourne.
The 31-year-old and his family were known to counter-terror agencies at a state and national level and were believed to have ties with north African extremist groups.
Khalif’s passport was cancelled several years ago after he was noted as one of 300 potential security risks.
It was also noted police are unable to get in touch with the Khalif’s wife, and believe she is both missing and radicalized.
At the time of this writing, few other news organizations have supplied a name for the suspect, although Australia’s Herald Sun cited police sources who said the suspect’s wife is “missing and is believed to have been radicalized,” as the Daily Mail also indicated.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton confirmed at a press conference that the attacker was known to police and intelligence agencies.
“We are now treating this as a terrorism incident,” said Ashton. “He’s got family associations that are well known to us.”
The Daily Mail reported the burning truck was packed with gas cylinders, of the type that might be connected to a barbecue grill, which suggests the attacker was attempting to create a larger explosion.
Australia’s News.com said the slain victim has not been formally identified. Eyewitnesses described the victim as male. Some of those witnesses said he was stabbed in the face. The other victims were described as a “26-year-old and a 58-year-old,” both hospitalized with “non-life-threatening injuries.” A woman named Maree Patterson identified one of the injured victims as her husband Rodney in a Facebook post and said he was “doing OK given the circumstances.”
“This is an evil, terrifying thing that’s happened in our city and state today. We condemn it,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Friday.
“We also take this opportunity to thank those very brave and dedicated members of Victoria Police who did all of us proud in their very quick response in very dangerous circumstances. They’ve done each and every one of us proud,” he continued.
Andrews also saluted “those strangers, people who were bystanders who knew nobody involved, who stepped in without a moment’s hesitation to render support and assistances.”
“I condemn the act of terrorism in Melbourne today that has tragically taken the life of a fellow Australian who has died as a result of this evil and cowardly attack,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after he was briefed on the incident.
“Australians will never be intimidated by these appalling attacks and we will continue to go about our lives and enjoy the freedoms that the terrorists detest,” Morrison declared.
The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency claimed the “perpetrator of the operation” in Melbourne was an “Islamic State fighter” whose mission was to “target nationals of the coalition” fighting against ISIS. There has not been any independent confirmation of this claim as of yet.