SYDNEY: A Frenchman was Thursday charged with stabbing to death a young British woman backpacker in Australia, but police found he showed no signs of radicalisation despite saying “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.
Twenty-nine-year-old Smail Ayad was accused of stabbing Mia Ayliffe-Chung, 21, multiple times late Tuesday at a hostel in Home Hill, a rural town in north Queensland state.
The attack also left a 30-year-old British man fighting for his life with critical head injuries, a 46-year-old local man with non-life threatening injuries, and a dead dog.
Ayad — who is due in court Friday — faces one charge of murder, two counts of attempted murder, one count of serious animal cruelty and 12 counts of serious assault, Queensland Police said.
The French national is also accused of resisting police violently when he was taken from hospital where he had undergone a psychiatric assessment late Wednesday, with officers using a taser and capsicum spray on him.
But while police alleged Wednesday that Ayad said “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) during the attack and again when arrested, investigators insisted Thursday that there were no signs of radicalisation.
“We are certainly not ruling anything out but what I can say at this stage there is absolutely no — and I repeat — there is absolutely no indication of any form of radicalisation or any particular motive in relation to this matter,” Detective Superintendent Ray Rohweder told a press conference.
Rohweder — who confirmed the names of the suspect and the victim — said one line of inquiry was whether Ayad had a romantic interest in Ayliffe-Chung, although he stressed that so far there was no indication of a “romantic connection” from her point of view.
The detective said the suspect appeared to have shown “some form of change of behaviour” and there was “some stuff that was a bit out of character” on Tuesday night, adding that Ayad may have taken cannabis.
State Police Minister Bill Byrne earlier called for calm after anti-immigration firebrand Pauline Hanson, a newly elected senator, was reported as saying the incident “could well be the first Islamic terrorist attack in Queensland”.
“There will be those that seek to exploit this and I believe they will be unhelpful,” Byrne was quoted by the Brisbane Times as saying. “What is required here is cool, calm, thoughtful consideration.”
Canberra has been increasingly concerned about extremism and in particular about home-grown radicalisation, keeping the terror threat alert level at high since September 2014.