Saturday, June 15, 2024

Knifeman rampaged through Sydney mall as shoppers ran for their lives – BBC News

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  • By Tiffanie Turnbull
  • BBC News, Sydney

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, The attack on Saturday has left Australia in shock

Westfield Bondi Junction looked exactly like it usually does on a Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds of people crammed into the centre – packs of teenagers, parents with grumbling kids, and weary customers sneaking a caffeine hit between shops.

Just minutes from Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, this is one of the most popular shopping centres in the country – and it is so big it even has its own train station.

But just after 15:00 local time, it turned into a horror scene.

Shoppers looked on helplessly as a mother tried to shield her infant from a knife-wielding man. Some ran for their lives, screaming and crying – others hid in change rooms. Blood-soaked bodies lay on the ground outside luxury stores.

A hero armed with a pole was captured on CCTV trying to bat away the assailant.

Video caption, Video shows Sydney stabbing attack suspect confronted in mall

At least six people – plus the attacker – are now dead. Eight were taken to hospital injured, including a nine-month-old baby.

Little else is known about the incident. Authorities say the 40-year-old killer was “known to police”, but they haven’t revealed a motive for the rampage – only indicating it was unlikely to have been terrorism.

Hours on, the flashing lights of ambulances illuminate crowds milling behind police tape, who are trying to make sense of what they’ve seen.

A few people embrace. Some, through tears, tell journalists they thought they were going to die. Others silently sit on the sidewalk in shock.

Video caption, Watch: Witnesses describe moment Sydney mall attack

There I find Johnny, 33, who tells me he was visiting from the Central Coast when he heard commotion outside the store he was shopping in.

When he turned to look, he saw a woman and her baby being attacked.

“She was getting stabbed. Everyone was in shock and didn’t know what to do,” he says, eyes wide.

Nearby he thought he could make out another body on the ground.

The woman managed to make a run for the Tommy Hilfiger store and once inside, staff quickly locked the doors, Johnny says.

“Some of the other shoppers were using clothing and things to try and… stop the bleeding.”

He says he thought he baby only had a minor wound, but authorities have since revealed that it has undergone surgery.

Image source, Getty Images

Johnny – who didn’t give his surname – said the mother was in a bad way.

“There was a lot of blood and she was panicking.”

Several local media outlets have reported that she is among those who died.

Another shopper, still shaky, tells me she came metres from the attacker, who was wearing an Australian national rugby league jersey, outside a Lululemon store. Huma Hussainy says the blade he wielded was at least the length of her forearm.

Behind him were two young women – teenagers, Ms Hussainy thinks – lying on the ground, surrounded by blood.

Ms Hussainy recounts seeing a lady trying to rouse one of them, but the young woman was not moving.

Image caption, Ms Hussainy and Mohamad Naveed say they are traumatised

Leaping into action, Ms Hussainy grabbed her partner and hid in a changeroom. For 45 minutes they sat petrified, and their terror reached new heights when they heard a gunshot ring out.

“I thought this guy not only has a knife, he has a gun as well.”

But the shot was actually from a lone officer who had stopped the killer. She reportedly yelled “put it down” before he lunged at her and she fired.

Video of the aftermath shows her giving him CPR.

It is not the only display of bravery that eyewitnesses have recounted.

Rashdan Aqashah, who works at the centre, details a moment where a man holding a bollard tries to slow the assailant.

“I saw this one guy fighting with the killer. He was holding the pole, trying to throw a pole at the escalator,” the 19-year-old tells the BBC. “It was just in front of our store.”

Image caption, Mr Aqashah says he managed to evacuate customers in his store calmly

The attack has sent shockwaves around Australia.

Not since the 2017 Bourke Street attack – when James Gargasoulas mowed down and killed six people in a car at a busy public shopping strip – has Australia seen carnage like this.

In a sombre national address, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was “beyond words or understanding”.

“This was a horrific act of violence indiscriminately targeted at the innocent people going about an ordinary Saturday, doing their shopping.”

I myself was among those at the shopping centre earlier today. A friend and I had popped to the Westfield for an afternoon of retail therapy. We left the centre at 15:19 – police say the stabbing began about 15:20.

Outside, I meet another woman, who was moments away from entering the shopping centre when she saw screaming crowds running away.

The woman asks not to be named, but we talk about how chilling it is to have come so close to an incident like this.

“We live just there,” her friend says, pointing to apartments less than 100 metres away. “We’re here every day… it’s so scary.”

“This just doesn’t happen here.”

Additional reporting by Katy Watson.

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