News State Victoria News Why was he free to kill? Bourke Street rampager was out on bail

Why was he free to kill? Bourke Street rampager was out on bail

A serious incident in Melbourne.
Loaded with gas bottles, Shire Ali's ute burns in the heart of Melbourne. Photo: ABC
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Bourke Street attacker Hassan Ali had his bail extended only weeks before the deadly rampage, despite a long history of failing to appear in court.

Hassan Ali, 30, was charged on three separate occasions with minor driving offences dating back to February last year, and failed to attend court to answer any of them, law enforcement sources confirmed.

His bail was forfeited for the first time in August last year, and then again six months later, before he was served with a warrant in October that extended his bail for another three months, according to court records.

He failed to attend four separate court hearings during this period, in which he was charged on three separate occasions with a total of six offences.

It is unclear if the October warrant was the only time Hassan Ali was arrested in relation to the driving offences, despite his bail first having been cancelled 20 months earlier.

Last Friday afternoon, Hassan Ali drove into Bourke Street, set his ute alight in an apparent attempt to ignite gas bottles in the tray, and stabbed three people, one fatally, before he was shot by police. He died in hospital.

Attacker had string of driving charges

The handling of his bail raises further questions as to what authorities knew about Hassan Ali before the attack, which police believe was inspired by Islamic State.

He was not being monitored despite having his passport cancelled by ASIO under suspicion of attempting to join the terrorist group in 2015, and being on the periphery of a major investigation completed last year.

It appears Hassan Ali was not referred to police after his passport was cancelled and it is believed officers involved in his recent matters were not aware this cancellation had occurred.

The attack stunned, sickened and scared Melbourne. Photo: ABC

His repeated failures to appear in court may also underline the views of his family that he was not an extremist but someone who struggled to function in the months before the attack because of mental health and substance abuse issues.

The ABC has been unable to confirm his bail conditions, but he was not subject to any outstanding warrants at the time of his death.

His driver’s licence had been suspended and one of his outstanding charges related to driving an unregistered vehicle, but it is unclear if the ute used in the attack was unregistered.

The other charges were three counts of driving whilst unauthorised, a speeding charge relating to driving at 82 kilometres per hour in a 60kph zone, and failing to answer bail.

James ‘Dimitrious’ Gargasoulas was also free on bail. Photo: AAP/Luis Ascui

The state government overhauled bail laws after Dimitrious Gargasoulas used a car to kill six people in Bourke Street in January last year.

He was on bail at the time, a decision that sparked the overhaul.

The decision to grant Hassan Ali bail was described as “standard” by one source given the nature of his charges, despite his history of failing to comply with bail or court orders.

The ABC has confirmed that Hassan Ali did not comply with a community based order nor a community corrections order issued in separate cases that started in 2011 and 2012.

In both cases he also repeatedly failed to appear before the court while on bail, resulting in him being remanded in custody for a week in 2014.

It is believed to be the only time he was in custody.

He was given a two-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay a fine and costs of more than $2,200.

Both penalties were still hanging over his head by late October, 2015 — the same year ASIO suspected he tried to travel to the Middle East to join Islamic State.

Similarly, he had the prospect of impending penalties hanging over his head at the time of the Bourke Street attack.

Call for bail reform

Responding to the ABC’s report, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said there was an urgent need for bail reform.

Mr Guy, who is running on a hardline law and order platform in the lead-up to the state election next week, tweeted “enough is enough” and said Hassan Ali should have been “locked away for contempt of law”.

Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto said Hassan Ali should not have been out on bail given his repeated failure to appear before court.

“Under our changes, he would not have been free today,” Mr Pesutto said.

Attorney-General Martin Pakula accused the Opposition of being unrealistic and attempting to politicise the issue.

“[Hassan Ali] did not have a history of violence,” Mr Pakula said.

“For the Opposition to say that under their regime, this person would have been remanded in custody is simply untrue.”

The ‘unremarkable’ attacker

Hassan Ali’s criminal history included possessing and using cannabis, theft, burglary and possessing a dangerous article in a public place.

A lawyer who previously represented Hassan Ali described him as unremarkable and could not recall any extremist beliefs, or particularly acute problems with mental health or drug addiction.

“He was not one of those ones where you think ‘that would be him’.”
Hassan Ali had previously been sentenced to undergo a year of drug treatment and testing, but details about his addiction and his compliance with the order were not available.

In the three years prior to the attack, Hassan Ali had his passport cancelled, became somewhat isolated from his family who were increasingly concerned with his erraticism, was incidentally monitored during a covert investigation, separated from his wife and was charged on three separate occasions with driving offences.

Police investigating Hassan Ali are trying to unravel this confluence of circumstances to see if anything was missed that could have prevented the attack.

They will also look for evidence to determine whether the attack represents a clear example of extremist beliefs motivating an act of violence, or whether the causes were more complex.

Authorities said Hassan Ali was inspired by Islamic State, but are understood to have not uncovered any evidence that he was in direct communication with members of the terrorist group at the time he attempted to travel to the Middle East or more recently.

The majority of Islamic State-inspired attackers have not had direct contact with the terrorist group.

Hassan Khalif Shire Ali seconds before a bullet ended his onslaught. Photo: Twitter

The Bourke Street attack has featured in Islamic State propaganda since Friday, but the terror group has been known to falsely claim credit for attacks.

A police source familiar with last year’s investigation, which ran for about a year and involved multiple instances of meetings or phone contact between Hassan Ali and the target being monitored, said nothing was found that suggested he was a risk.

He was working as a gardener or landscaper, the source said, and not only appeared benign from an extremism perspective, but showed no signs of mental illness or drug abuse.

“He had a wife, a kid, a job, he was … stable,” the source said.

The investigation found Hassan Ali sometimes prayed in private homes with a small group of people who shared radical beliefs, who he met through the Hume Islamic Youth Centre, the source said, but these cliques were common among young men.

There was also no indication that when the target of the investigation was charged late last year it could radicalise Hassan Ali, the source said.

But Hassan Ali’s family are concerned that when their son and brother learnt he had been caught up in a covert operation, that magnified his existing problems with paranoia and delusions.

He refused treatment

“They wanted him to get help but he wouldn’t agree,” Sheik Moustapha Sarakibi, a Board of Imams representative, said.

“There was extreme paranoia. He was saying I’m being watched, I’m being followed.

“But they did not see anything that suggested he was going to pick up a kitchen knife and do what he did.”

Sheikh Sarakibi, who has mentored youths with an extremist interpretation of Islam and worked as a prison chaplain, said many families reported signs of radicalisation in their loved ones, but others did not know what to look for.

“We are talking about mothers who are telling authorities about their own son,” he said.

“But a lot of families don’t see the signs.”