Australia mourns five women, Pakistani guard killed in Sydney mall attack

Misinformation about the attacker’s identity – as a Muslim or Jewish man – spread widely online before police identified the suspect.

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Australia offer prayers for security guard Faraz Tahir, who was killed 'defending others.
Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Australia offer prayers for security guard Faraz Tahir, who was killed 'defending others', at the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall in Sydney [David Gray/AFP]

Australians are mourning the death of five women and a “courageous” Pakistani security guard killed in a stabbing attack at a Sydney shopping centre.

Police on Sunday said they were yet to confirm any motivation or ideology behind the attacks in Sydney’s Bondi Junction but are investigating if the killer deliberately targeted women.

Misinformation speculating about the attacker’s identity, as a Muslim or Jewish man, spread widely online before police identified the suspected killer – Joel Cauchi, a white Christian man and an Australian national, who was the seventh person killed in the attack.

The 40-year-old suspect from Queensland was killed at the scene by a police officer who shot him after he allegedly confronted her with a knife, police said.

The five women he allegedly killed included Ashlee Good, whose nine-month-old baby, suffering stab wounds, was taken to hospital.

Good’s family described her as an “all around outstanding human” and said in a statement on Sunday they were still “reeling from the terrible loss”.

Her family also thanked two men who “held and cared for our baby when Ashlee could not” and said the nine-month-old was “currently doing well” after undergoing hours of surgery.

Faraz Tahir, 30, a security guard who had recently moved to Australia after fleeing persecution in Pakistan, was also killed in the attack, “while defending others”, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Australia said in a statement.

The statement said Tahir was a “cherished member” of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community “known for his dedication and kindness” who came to Australia seeking refuge about a year ago.

Elven other people were also taken to hospital suffering stab wounds, including nine women and two men, local police said.

people in suits lay flowers
Australia PM Anthony Albanese joins others in laying flowers in memory of the victims [David Gray/AFP]

New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Karen Webb told reporters on Sunday the higher number of women targeted in the attack was part of their investigation.

‘False claims and rumours’

Speculations that the “perpetrator was Muslim or Palestinian emerged within minutes”, leading to “anti-Muslim hatred” in the comment threads of leading Australian media outlets, the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) said on Sunday.

An article on another News Corp site remained online with the headline “Was this a terrorist attack? Question all of Australia is asking” on Sunday night.

A “story about the perpetrator being a different person with a Jewish name emerged, also false”, AMAN said, adding that “our hearts go out to the victims’ families and the baby who has lost her mother”.

Sarah Schwartz from the Jewish Council of Australia said “right-wing Islamophobic groups” had “[exploited] this tragedy to push their hateful agenda”.

“We must not allow this tragedy to be exploited for political gain or to stoke Islamophobia or anti-Semitism,” she said.

Cameron Wilson, a reporter at Australian news outlet Crikey, said social media platform X “seemed to be the engine room of many Bondi Junction false claims and rumours”.

“It’s horrifying that while people were pre-emptively and baselessly blaming immigration for the Bondi Junction attack, one of the victims was a refugee security guard who died serving others,” Wilson said in a post on social media.

It was the deadliest attack in Australia since six people were killed in December 2022, which police months later attributed to “Christian extremist ideology”, with Webb telling reporters that police had ruled out links to Christian activism in Saturday’s attack.

While fewer mass shootings have occurred since Australia brought in strict gun laws following the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting, an Australian attacker killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch about five years ago in one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history.

The number of women killed by men in Australia has been the subject of widespread protests in recent months and years, with activist group Counting Dead Women saying the five women murdered on Saturday brought the total number of Australian women killed so far in 2024 to 23.

Source: Al Jazeera