Australia wants to know why a hostage-taking gunman was on parole
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has demanded an investigation into how a man known to have links to extremist organizations was able to hold a woman hostage in Melbourne Monday, despite being freed on parole just six months ago.
The 29-year-old gunman, Yacqub Khayre, killed a concierge at an apartment building in the city and held a woman hostage inside for two hours before he was killed in a firefight with police. Three police officers were injured in the shootout, which began when Khayre emerged from the apartment and began firing. His hostage, a sex worker who he’d booked through an escort agency, was uninjured.
During the siege, the gunman called a local television station, telling staff: “This is for IS [Islamic State group], this is for al-Qaida.” ISIS’ propaganda arm Amaq claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday, but local police commissioner Graham Ashton said he believed Khayre was acting alone.
“There is nothing that we’ve found thus far that would suggest to us that this was anything that was planned or done in concert with others,” Ashton said. “There isn’t a sort of ongoing threat in relation to any plot or anything around this individual.”
Police confirmed that Khayre was on parole at the time of Monday’s attack, prompting Turnbull to question how the gunman had been granted parole, given his substantial criminal history and extremist associations.
Khayre had previously been arrested, then acquitted, over a foiled terrorist plot to attack an army barracks in Sydney in 2009, and carried out a violent home invasion attack in 2012 in Melbourne while high on meth and armed with a knife. He was paroled in November 2016.
“This terrorist attack by a known criminal, a man who was only recently released on parole, is a shocking, cowardly crime,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra Tuesday.
“He was known to have connections, at least in the past, with violent extremism… How was he on parole?”
Khayre, who was born in Somalia and came to Australia as a child refugee, was one of five men arrested in 2009 over the plot to kill soldiers at Sydney’s Holsworthy army barracks. Their plan was uncovered when police learned that the group, who met regularly at a prayer hall regarded as a hotbed of extremism, were sending money to the terror group al-Shabaab in Somalia. Khayre and one of his co-accused were acquitted when the case went to trial, but three others were sentenced to 18 years prison.
Prior to his arrest that year, Khayre travelled to Somalia to attend a training camp, where, according to his uncle, “weapons and military training may have happened.” During his 2010 trial, prosecutors argued that he had been seeking religious approval from a cleric in Somalia to proceed with the plot, while his defense team argued he was seeking religious enlightenment and had no intent of carrying out the barracks attack.
In 2009, Khayre was ordered to take part in a deradicalization program. But by the time of his release from jail in November last year, he was not being monitored by counter-terror police. Victorian police have rejected suggestions they erred by not monitoring him more closely.
ISIS promises supporters that any attacks carried out during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will incur greater spiritual rewards, resulting in an uptick of attacks during the period in recent years. In May, an ISIS propaganda magazine called on followers to take hostages in order to draw police to the scene, which matches the pattern of Khayre’s attack.
A number of alleged terror plots have been foiled in Melbourne in recent years, including one in 2015 targeting Anzac Day commemorations, and another in December plotting a Christmas Day attack.
The siege has prompted renewed debate in Australia about immigration and Islam, as the country grapples with how to deal with extremists. Far-right politician Pauline Hanson, leader of the One Nation party, called for a Donald Trump-style halt to Muslim immigration in the wake of the attack.
“(Turnbull should) look seriously at instituting a moratorium on immigration of Muslims to Australia or, at the very least, greater stringency in vetting those wishing to come to our country,” she said.