The fatal attack on the beloved Melbourne identity Sisto Malaspina in Bourke Street three years ago was a premeditated act of terrorism, a coroner has found.
The Victorian state coroner John Cain has handed down his findings into the 19-second attack by Hassan Khalif Shire Ali in November 2018, finding that it was motivated by his adherence to Islamist extremism and Islamic State.
He found that opportunities to prevent the attack may have been missed but he was unable to conclude that Shire Ali’s trajectory towards it would have been averted if intelligence gaps had been filled, if a different threat assessment had been made or if Shire Ali had not been bailed weeks earlier.
Malaspina, the co-owner of Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, was one of three people stabbed by Shire Ali, who was a national security person of interest.
The attack began when Shire Ali set fire to gas tanks in his car. A bystander, Rod Patterson, was running to help the driver when he was blindsided by Shire Ali and stabbed in the head with a 22cm hunting knife.
Shire Ali then overpowered Malaspina, repeatedly stabbing him before chasing down a security guard, Shadi, and stabbing him in the neck.
He turned then on police, who tried first to disarm him with their batons before one fired his weapon.
In a hearing on Monday, Cain said the available evidence supported a finding that Shire Ali’s actions constituted a premeditated act of terrorism and an Isis-inspired attack, attributable to Shire Ali’s adherence to an extremist interpretation of Islam.
While the actions of one man that day were intended to intimidate and harm, he said, the acts of many others who stepped in demonstrated the opposite result.
He praised Patterson and other bystanders, including two off-duty police officers, who acted with real courage and in scant regard for the consequences for themselves.
Cain also found that the use of lethal force by police was justified in the circumstances. Shire Ali died in hospital after he was shot by an officer.
The first two officers who arrived on the scene, known as A1 and B2, believed they were responding to a car fire but instead found themselves confronted with an armed and determined assailant.
The coroner commended them for their presence of mind, restraint and effective collaboration in a volatile and dangerous situation, noting that one of the officers had only graduated from the police academy five months earlier and it was the pair’s first time working together.
Cain said there was evidence Shire Ali’s criminal behaviour was escalating in the lead-up to the attack, including allegations that he assaulted an acquaintance, damaged a vehicle with a sledgehammer, assaulted a person with a hammer, was involved in a hit and run, and kicked a car door after an altercation with a stranger.
All of these episodes were reported to police.
On 12 October 2018 Shire Ali was pulled over by police. He had five warrants outstanding and was bailed on the side of the road by a police sergeant.
Cain found that those actions were reasonable and appropriate.