Bourke Street attacker’s name not flagged despite counter-terror unit search

An alert calling for help to locate Bourke Street killer Hassan Khalif Shire Ali was not put on Victoria Police’s internal database until weeks before his attack, despite counter-terrorism officers searching for him for about four months.

The alert, known as a whereabouts flag, is attached to a person’s name on the force's internal LEAP system. It would have let officers who came into contact with Shire Ali know of the Security Intelligence Unit’s desire to find the 30-year-old, as police did not have his most recent address.

Hassan Khalif Shire Ali lunged at police with a knife before he was shot.

But an officer known as SIU Officer A told an inquest into the 2018 attack that SIU preferred to use other more covert methods to find people of interest, including using a helicopter to hover over homes and drive-pasts of potential addresses.

"They all seem like far more extreme and difficult measures. Would you agree with that proposition? To put a helicopter up in the sky," counsel assisting the coroner Catherine Fitzgerald asked.

"Yes," SIU Officer A replied.

The inquest was told a whereabouts flag was not put on Shire Ali’s name until late October when general duties police wanted to question him over a string of violent attacks, including one with a sledgehammer.

The scene on Bourke Street where Shire Ali set a car alight before killing the co-owner of Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar and wounding two others in a suspected act of terror.Credit:Stuart Gaut

On November 9, 2018, he drove down Bourke Street, setting the car alight before killing the much-loved co-owner of Pellegrini's Espresso Bar Sisto Malaspina and wounding two others in a suspected act of terror.

Following failed negotiations to surrender, the 30-year-old was shot by police in front of shoppers. Shire Ali, who was armed with knives, later died in hospital.

Sisto Malaspina in Pellegrini’s in 2010.Credit:Joe Armao

"We hadn't had an opportunity to speak to him in times recent in the lead-up to the incident and were making a number of inquiries. My investigators were quite active in trying to track him down and find out more … as to where he was in relation to his mindset and health," the officer said.

On Wednesday, the inquest heard that at the time of Shire Ali's suspected terror attack against innocent bystanders, the SIU was working to fill "intelligence gaps" on the 30-year-old, as he was a national security person of interest.

Catherine Fitzgerald, counsel assisting the coroner, at the inquest into the killing of Sisto Malaspina.Credit:Paul Jeffers

During questioning, Ms Fitzgerald revealed that between October 11 and November 2, SIU investigators had undertaken numerous measures to try to locate Shire Ali, including attempting to find his phones, flying over potential addresses and contacting a person known to him.

She said investigators obtained his Meadow Heights address on November 2 and a drive-past of the property located two vehicles known to be linked to Shire Ali.

Fawkner Highway Patrol officers had come across Shire Ali on October 12 but there was no SIU-initiated whereabouts flag on his name alerting that intelligence investigators wanted to speak with him and obtain his address.

The converted garage where Shire Ali and his wife lived with their young son.Credit:Eddie Jim

The only prompt on LEAP was one that notified all police that he was national security person of interest, and to proceed with caution as he may have extremist views.

SIU Officer A said a more specific type of prompt could compromise the covert nature of security intelligence investigations, which was "paramount".

"There were restrictions on what we could do with Hassan," the officer said.

When asked whether the management of Shire Ali’s file "was not ideal" and a "standard beneath that expected of a person of national security interest", the witness replied: "I don't agree with that. Our officers worked incredibly hard to try and find his location."

The inquest had earlier heard that he had been listed as a national security person of interest since 2015 after attempting to leave the country, where he was found to be carrying Islamic State material. His passport was later cancelled due to fears he may have been seeking to travel to fight with Islamic State.

The inquest continues.

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