A French man allegedly cried “Allahu Akbar” during a stabbing attack that left a 21-year-old British woman dead in front of up to 30 onlookers at a backpackers hostel in Australia’s north-east.
The 29-year-old suspect allegedly repeated the phrase – which means God is greatest in Arabic – when arrested by Queensland police, who told of being “confronted with a terrible scene” at the hostel in Home Hill, about 100km (62 miles) south of Townsville, on Tuesday night.
The dead woman was named by Australian and British media as Mia Ayliffe-Chung, from Derbyshire, who was reported to be days into a three-month working holiday in the area after having worked in a bar in the Gold Coast.
Paying tribute, her half-sister Nicola Chung, who lives in south London, told the Guardian: “She was bubbly, carefree and had trained to be a nanny, because she loved children,” she said. “She was just backpacking. She had been travelling for a year and had arrived in Australia.”
Steve Gollschewski, a deputy police commissioner, said the alleged offender’s comments “may be construed as being of an extremist nature” and investigators were working with Australian federal police to establish his motives.
But police were “not ruling out any motivations at this early stage, whether they be criminal or political”.
Investigators would also consider whether “mental health or drug misuse” issues were a factor in the attack alongside any “indication of an extremist slant or he was radicalised”, Gollschewski said at a press conference in Brisbane.
“This is not about race or religion, it is about individual criminal behaviour,” he said.
Police were not searching for anyone else and there was “no ongoing threat to the community”, he said.
It was understood that Ayliffe-Chung had lived in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast and worked as a waitress at the Bedroom Lounge Bar before making the 800-mile trip north to work outdoors.
Her latest Facebook update on 20 August read: “Day 4 done. Just 85 left! Skills achieved; the ability to tell the difference between a rock and a clump of mud and throwing stones really far. The sun is too hot. Stupid Australia.”
She went to Ecclesbourne school in Derbyshire and Anthony Gell school in Wirksworth before studying childcare at Buxton college and psychology at Chesterfield college, according to her profile.
Amy Browne, 19, from the Gold Coast, who worked with Ayliffe-Chung in the Gold Coast, told the Press Association: “Mia was honestly the most bubbliest and most caring girl I knew. She got along with everyone she met, she just had that gorgeous personality that everyone seemed to enjoy.
“She always had a smile on her face, so innocent and full of life and love. Our memories will be cherished for ever and I know she’d want us all to stay positive in the darkest of times.”
Monique Cross, an Australian friend of Ayliffe-Chung, told the Press Association: “She was a gorgeous person. It’s an awful tragedy – I can’t believe it.”
The alleged attack also left a British man, 30, in a critical condition with stabbing wounds. A local man, 47, who intervened suffered non life-threatening injuries and a dog at the hostel was killed.
The French man is in Townsville hospital after being injured. He was arrested at the scene, where police took possession of a knife allegedly used in the attack. The man has been taken into police custody, with charges yet to be laid.
He was not being held under federal anti-terrorist laws but state criminal laws, with investigators were considering charges including murder and attempted murder, Gollschewski said.
The man had been on Australia on a temporary visa since March and appeared to have “no local connections”, the deputy police commissioner said. He was not previously known to police.
Sharon Cowden, an Australian federal police commander, said at the same press conference that while the alleged killer had no known links to extremist groups, investigators would be “speaking to all appropriate international law enforcement” to examine this.
“Any line of inquiry that takes us to international law enforcement we will follow,” she said.
Cowden condemned the attack as a “senseless act of violence”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Supt Ray Rohweder told reporters in Townsville that investigators were “still trying to piece together what has happened – we don’t have a motive yet”.
“Police were confronted with a terrible scene when they arrived,” he said. “There were up to 30 people who witnessed the incident.”
Police had been in contact with the British consulate, which would liaise with the victims’ families, Rohweder said.
The Liberal MP George Christensen, who represents the electorate the hostel is in, could not be reached for comment, but he noted the incident on Twitter.
Bill Byrne, the Queensland minister for police, fire and emergency services, described the incident as “tragic and disturbing”.
“Right now, our thoughts are with the victims’ family and friends and the close knit community of Home Hill,” said Byrne.
Byrne said he remained in contact with the police commissioner and expected more details as the investigation progressed.
“It is important that we allow police to get on with the job of conducting their investigations and more information will be made publicly available once it is known.”
He also urged the public to remember “this is not about race or religion”, but about criminal behaviour.
Ali Kadri, an Islamic Council of Queensland spokesman speaking from a policing symposium in Brisbane, said he had been briefed by a deputy police commissioner and other senior police who were sceptical about a religious motive for the attack.
Kadri called for caution in public discussion before full facts were known, saying speculation about an act of terrorism was “actually empowering the terrorists”.
“We have to be careful about trying to connect every single murder committed by a Muslim to terrorism,” he said. “To speculate it’s (an act of) terrorism … what is going to happen now is Isis are going to pick up on it, they’re going to claim it, and they’re going to look stronger than they are.”
A spokeswoman from the British high commission in Canberra said: “We are working with local authorities and providing support to the families after one British national was killed and another critically injured in an incident in Australia.
“Our thoughts are with the families at this difficult time. High commission staff have deployed to Townsville and we remain in close contact with local authorities.”
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Source: The Guardian