An Australian man of Somali origin who killed one person and took another hostage had connections with two prominent militant groups, VOA has learned.
Yacqub Khayre was killed in a shootout with police Monday after killing an employee of a Melbourne apartment building and holding a woman captive inside one of the apartments. Three police officers were injured in the exchange.
The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Police say they are treating this as a “terrorism incident,” but add that they have not seen messages showing that Khayre was guided by an outside force.
A relative told VOA’s Somali Service that Khayre, 29, had past connections to both Islamic State and the Somali militant group al-Shabab.
Khayre was born in the Somali city of Baidoa; his birth name is Yacqub Ahmed Mohamed. He moved to a Kenyan refugee camp with his family in 1992, after the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, before moving to Australia with his grandparents in 1994.
He returned to Somalia in mid-2006 when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took over most of southern and central Somalia, according to the relative. At the time al-Shabab fighters were part of the ICU.
The relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he is “certain” that Khayre trained with members of al-Shabab near Baidoa for three months. “He travelled there against the wishes of his family,” says the relative.
After the intervention of Ethiopian troops and the collapse of the ICU, Khayre fled the country and travelled to Kenya. He was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi in 2006 by Kenyan authorities.
“After being arrested by Kenya security forces he was handed over to Interpol and the FBI,” says the relative who was familiar with the arrest. “He was later handed over to the Australian authorities.”
Lack of evidence
After returning to Australia, Khayre was involved in other crimes, including robbery.
He was among a group of men charged with plotting to attack an Australia army base in Sydney in August 2009. He was later released for lack of evidence, while three other members of the group were convicted and given jail sentences.
Khayre then spent 16 months in a high security facility for terrorism offenses, but was acquitted and later released in 2010, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.
In 2012, he was arrested after committing robbery while armed with a knife. He was reportedly under the influence of drugs and was sentenced to five years. He was released in November last year on parole, according to the relative.
The relative says he has “no doubt” that Khayre was radicalized. He says Khayre knew at least one Australian of Somali origin who travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS.
“He was a close buddy to Sharmarke, an ISIS militant from Australia who was killed three years ago,” the relative said.
Sharmarke Jama was an Australian model and DJ who joined ISIS. His death in 2014 in Syria attracted media attention. Jama was from Melbourne, as was Khayre.
According to sources, police have seized all the family members’ electronic gadgets for review. “The whole family is now treated as a scene for crime,” said the relative.