Australia: perpetrator of knife attack identified

The stabbing attack which left six people dead and several injured on Saturday in a Sydney shopping center was perpetrated by a 40-year-old man suffering from mental illness, with nothing suggesting a possible terrorist motive, according to Australian police. “At this stage, we have no element, no information, no proof or no intelligence to suggest that it is a particular motivation, an ideology or other” for his act, explained New South Wales State Police Deputy Commissioner Anthony Cooke.

On the other hand, “we know that the attacker suffered (…) from mental health problems”, he added, specifying that the man, known to the police, had come from the state of Queensland (northeast). The attacker, Joel Cauchi, was chased and shot dead by a police officer hailed for her heroism.

Six dead, twelve injured

Karen Webb, another New South Wales state police official, said five women and one man had been killed. Twelve people were also transported to hospital, including a 9-month-old baby who is in “serious but stable” condition, according to police. Her mother died from her injuries.

The tragedy occurred at the sprawling, busy Westfield Bondi Junction shopping complex on Saturday afternoon. The assailant appears to have acted alone, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a news conference. “For all of us this evening, the appalling scenes at Bondi Junction are beyond words and beyond comprehension,” he said. Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the bravery of passers-by who helped each other and the police officer who intervened in defiance of danger. “She is certainly a hero. She has undoubtedly saved lives by doing so,” he said.

A “senseless” attack

King Charles III, British sovereign but also head of state of Australia, declared himself “horrified” by this “senseless” aggression in a statement. Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the “senseless” attack.

Pranjul Bokaria was leaving work and doing some shopping when the attack took place. She ran to a nearby store and took refuge in a break room. “It was scary, there were people crying,” she told AFP. She then escaped through a fire exit with other customers and employees, onto a back street. “I am alive and grateful,” she said.

Other witnesses told AFP there was panic, with people seeking shelter while police tried to secure the area. Around 4:00 p.m. local time (06:00 GMT), Reece Colmenares was on her way to the gym when she saw “people running and screaming” that someone had been stabbed. She then took refuge in a hardware store with 10 to 12 other people. “They took us down (into a room) and closed the store,” she told AFP. “It was scary, there were small children, elderly people and people in wheelchairs.”

This type of attack is extremely rare in Australia. In November 2018, an individual armed with a knife killed one person and injured two others on a Melbourne street before being shot dead by police. The crime was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

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