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Yacqub Khayre: Melbourne siege gunman’s history of violent crime and drugs

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Man acquitted of plotting attack on Sydney’s Holsworthy army base was isolated from his family and on parole for a violent home invasion

Ben Doherty

Yacqub Khayre – who murdered one man and shot at police in an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in Melbourne on Monday – was isolated from his family and community, addicted to drugs and had an extensive history of violent crime.

He came to the attention of counter-terrorism police in 2009 when he was one of five men accused of plotting an attack on Sydney’s Holsworthy army base to kill soldiers. While he was ultimately acquitted of that offence, his violent criminal history ran further back.

In 2007, at the age of 19, Khayre was sentenced for more than 40 offences, including multiple counts of burglary, aggravated burglary, theft, unlawful assault and drug possession.

Brighton siege: gunman Yacqub Khayre may have lured police to apartment

On bail for earlier offences, Khayre had accosted a man on a train, pulling out a knife and demanding money and his phone, before stabbing him twice in the leg.

Police and courts were aware of a longstanding drug and alcohol abuse problems.

In sentencing Khayre for a drug-affected violent home invasion in 2012 – for which he was on parole when he committed Monday’s attack – Judge Felicity Hampel said he was a young man with a “very sorry criminal record” and “gloomy prospects” for rehabilitation.

“There is a real risk you will become even more isolated than you are now, institutionalised, and at increasingly high risk of reoffending. You are now isolated from your family and community. There was no family at court to support you.”

Born in Somalia, Khayre was taken by his parents from war-ravaged Mogadishu when he was three. His family migrated to Australia via a Kenyan refugee camp in 1991. Police said he had been recognised as a refugee under Australia’s humanitarian migration program. Khayre was an Australian citizen.

In 2009, aged 21, Khayre returned briefly to Somalia and attended a training camp. His uncle, Ibrahim Khayre, told the Sydney Morning Herald he believed this is when “weapons and military training may have happened”.

In the same year, he was arrested as part of a terrorist plot to kill soldiers at Holsworthy barracks. Khayre and another co-accused, Abdirahman Ahmed, were both acquitted of the plot charges, the court hearing Khayre had not planbed to go through with the assault.

But three others – Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, Saney Edow Aweys and Nayef El Sayed – were convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

During the terrorism charges case, the Victorian supreme court heard that Khayre had been a worshipper at the Preston mosque, and had later been attending the smaller 8 Blacks prayer hall, once a snooker hall behind a 7-Eleven convenience store, and regarded by police as an incubator of extremist ideology and a hub for a network of Islamist operatives.

Five men from a small reading group at the 8 Blacks prayer hall were accused of plotting the terrorist attack on the barracks in 2009, planning to infiltrate the army base carrying military-grade weapons and kill as many soldiers as possible, before they ran out of ammunition or were killed themselves.

The men had been seeking a senior cleric willing to issue a fatwa legitimising their assault.

But after police discovered – unrelated to the attack – that money was being sent from Australia to the terrorist group al-Shabaab in Somalia, undercover officers infiltrated the group. The Holsworthy plot was uncovered and the men arrested before they could carry out the assault.

Khayre was remanded in custody between August 2009 and December 2010 on the terrorism charges. He later claimed the time in prison had a damaging effect on his mental health and, upon release, he relapsed into heavy drug use and began criminal reoffending.

On 22 April 2012, high on ice and carrying a flick-knife, Khayre invaded a home in Dallas, in Melbourne’s north. Khayre stole jewellery, money tins, a handbag and a computer before he was interrupted by a woman who lived in the house returning home from a night out about 2.40am.

He punched the woman in the stomach and back before assaulting her father, who had been woken by the fighting. The father and daughter wrestled Khayre to the ground and sat on him until the police arrived.

Police say Khayre was so affected by drugs when he was arrested he was unable to be interviewed.

Khayre pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, theft, intentionally causing injury, recklessly causing injury and giving a false name.

In sentencing Khayre to five years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years, Justice Paul Coghlan described Khayre’s assault on the father and daughter as “repeated acts of gratuitous violence”.

Coghlan noted Khayre’s time on remand for the terrorism charges of which he was ultimately acquitted. “What was clear enough was that not long after release the applicant continued using ice, broke up with his family and started reoffending.”

Khayre was paroled “at a later point than he might have hoped”, Victoria’s police commissioner, Graham Ashton, has said, “because of poor behaviour … terrible behaviour in prison”.

He was still on parole when he launched Monday’s attack in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Brighton.

But Ashton said that, before Monday’s assault, Khayre had met the conditions of his parole. “He’s been compliant, including drug tests, attending appointments and observing a curfew. That’s the information that I have to this point … not only was he eligible and received parole but it would appear on advice to this point that he’d been compliant with the terms and conditions of the parole granted to him.”

It’s unclear if Khayre was required to go through a deradicalisation program after the Holsworthy charge and his involvement with those ultimately convicted.

Ashton said nothing in Khayre’s recent behaviour before Monday was cause for him to be a major concern to intelligence officers.

“It’s more general criminal offending he’s been involved with,” he said. “So there really wasn’t anything sitting there in recent times that suggested he was about to do this from an intel point of view.

“But, of course he’s known to us as having that background. That would be seven years ago now.”

Crime

Kansas bomb plot trial drawing to a close as testimony ends

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali refugees in western Kansas is drawing to a close after weeks of testimony.

All sides have rested in the federal case against Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI. The judge dismissed two weapons-related charges against Stein.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren plans a hearing on Monday to hash out the final jury instructions. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. The jury trial began March 20.

The three men were indicted in October 2016 on charges they planned set off bombs the day after the Presidential election.

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Terrorism Watch

In Somalia, Al Shabab Is Stronger Now Than in Years

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During the morning of April 1, 2018, a car drove up to an Ugandan army base in Bulamarer, Somalia, and blew up — the beginning of an Al Shabaab attack that, in combination with another suicide attack on a convoy of reinforcements, left at least 46 Ugandan soldiers dead.

The radical Islamist group has carried out many such attacks in recent months, which has put increased pressure on the Somali government and the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, which numbers some 22,000 troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Burundi. In February, at least 18 people died in Mogadishu, the capital, in twin car bombings.

A recent analysis by Christopher Anzalone, a Ph.D. candidate of Islamic Studies at McGill University, concludes that the militant and terror group is possibly — now — in one of its strongest positions in years given its increasing willingness to launch bolder attacks while penetrating into Mogadishu with bombings and assassinations. Anzalone’s article is available at CTC Sentinel, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly journal.

Al Shabab also has a cohesive and adaptable organization with dedicated military, governing and intelligence structures capable of rooting out spies, launching company-sized infantry operations and governing its limited territory.

U.S. air strikes — numbering more than 40 since 2016 — and commando raids, while successful in killing Al Shabab militants, may have also increased opposition to the Somali government, the U.S. military and the African Union in a country marked by local divisions characterized by tribal loyalties.

Case in point, in August 2017, a firefight between a joint U.S.-Somali force and Al Shabab reportedly resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians including children during a raid in Bariire. The U.S. military denied it killed any civilians in the raid. The Daily Beast later reported that U.S. commandos fired on unarmed civilians, and placed weapons seized during the raid next to the bodies of slain civilians before photographing them.

“Different parts of the government’s security forces … rely on the control of lucrative checkpoints and the fees and bribes they can charge civilians,” Anzalone writes, “and they have engaged in gun battles over these checkpoints and regular protests decrying the government’s failure to pay them.”

Somalia lacks a true national army, which is more akin to a coalition of local tribal forces. The Somali government’s own pronouncements of Al Shabab’s failings cannot be taken at face value, according to Tricia Bacon writing separately for War on the Rocks. “There are questions about the reported surge in defections, with well-connected sources privately telling me that the Somali security services are hyping this trend to stoke dissension within Al Shabab,” Bacon writes.

U.S. air strikes and ground raids have not, at the least, stopped Al Shabaab.

“While airstrikes have taken a significant toll on al-Shabaab, including the targeted killings of senior leaders and administrators,” Anzalone adds, “and despite claims made in late January by a senior African Union official that drone attacks were ‘wiping out Al Shabab in good numbers’ the insurgents continued throughout 2017 to be able to assemble large forces of fighters and launch major attacks on AMISOM and Somali government bases.”

Fortunately, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Somalia, primarily base in Puntland, is small and appears disorganized compared to Al Shabab — which emerged out of the Islamic Courts Union and which controlled Mogadishu for a brief period in 2006.

To defeat both groups, however, the Somali government will need to substantially improve its own armed forces — marred as they are with corruption — along with the political and economic relationship with the country’s states.

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Briefing Room

Shabab says it killed Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia

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NYTIMES — NAIROBI, Kenya — Islamist militants in Somalia carried out multiple coordinated attacks against African Union peacekeeping forces on Sunday, and claimed to have killed at least 59 Ugandan soldiers.

Ceaser Olweny, a spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeepers, said four soldiers had been killed, and six wounded.

The Shabab, a Somali terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, made the attacks on three military bases and two Somali government outposts in the Lower Shabelle region, a Shabab stronghold near Mogadishu, the country’s capital.

Mr. Olweny said the attacks were coordinated.

Somali officials confirmed the attacks to the local news media.

“The number of casualties, and whether or not the dead were combatants, is used by all sides for propaganda and political objectives,” Abukar Arman, an analyst and former Somalia special envoy to the United States, said from Columbus, Ohio.

The attacks began on Sunday morning when two car bombs exploded outside the African Union base in the town of Bulo Mareer, 100 miles southwest of Mogadishu, according to Abdifatah Haji Abdulle, the deputy commissioner of Lower Shabelle.

The car bombs destroyed one African Union vehicle and one Somali government vehicle, according to Maj. Farah Osman of the Somali Army, who is stationed near the base.

“Then a large number of Al Shabab fighters began firing from under the trees,” Mr. Osman told Reuters. “It was a hellish battle.”

The Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of peacekeepers in the hourslong firefight, but the group is known to exaggerate such figures.

Mr. Olweny said soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as Amisom, had killed 30 Shabab militants during the attacks. The Shabab said only 14 of its members had died.

Amisom has steadily pushed the Shabab out of major towns, but the group controls large sections of rural territory. It frequently targets Amisom bases and Somali government institutions — attacks that have intensified recently, even as American strikes against the group have increased.

The United States Africa Command, which cooperates with Somalia’s national military and security agencies, carried out nearly three dozen drone strikes against the Shabab last year.

The Amisom peacekeeping force was first deployed in Somalia in 2007. More than 20,000 soldiers and police officers from six countries serve in the mission, including more than 6,000 from Uganda.

The African Union plans to gradually withdraw its troops from the country and to hand over security operations to the Somali Army by 2020.

Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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