By Rachel Baxendale and Primrose Riordan
April 7, 2017
A sheet of paper covers the window of the Queanbeyan service station where letters “IS” were apparently written in blood after a 29-year-old attendant was fatally stabbed last night.
Counter-terrorism police are investigating whether two 15- and 16-year-old boys who allegedly murdered Pakistani student Zeeshan Akbar during a violent crime spree had been radicalised by extremist Islamic ideology.
The letters “IS”, potentially an acronym for the terrorist group Islamic State, were apparently smeared on the wall and window of the Bungendore Road service station where Mr Akbar was killed, police sources said.
NSW police say one of the teenagers arrested may have terror links.
Addressing the media this afternoon, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said evidence at the crime scene led police to believe the 16-year-old may have terrorist links.
“We have two teenagers in custody and sufficient information to believe the actions of one of those teenagers may be related to terrorism,” Ms Burn said.
The Joint-Counter Terrorism Team has taken over the investigation, which is also looking into potentially related events including an attempted robbery at a bottle shop in the ACT, an attack on a homeless man and at a unit in Queanbeyan and later an attack where a man was stabbed and his vehicle stolen.
That man is believed to be in a stable condition.
Police are also investigating whether the incident was drug-related.
The two young assailants are NSW natives who were known to the police, according to Ms Burn, but their criminal history is unknown.
Mr Akbar was a Pakistani national who had recently applied for Australian citizenship.
Mr Akbar’s friend and former colleague Shah Nawaz Mohammed, 23, said he was a lovely man.
“He was such a nice guy, always helping. He never had a problem with anybody,” Mr Mohammed said.
He said he had worked with Mr Akbar at the service station up until about a year ago and understood he had been living in Queanbeyan for about 18 months after moving here from Melbourne.
The pair had also worked selling pizzas in Canberra, and Mr. Mohammed said he thought Mr Akbar had been living in Australia for five or six years.
Mr. Akbar has a cousin in Australia, but the rest of his family remains in Pakistan.
He had been living with other Pakistani men in Queanbeyan.
Mr Mohammed, who now drives Ubers for a living, said the stabbing made him glad he was no longer working in service stations.
“Absolutely. I feel so bad and scared,” he said. I don’t want to work in those sort of places anymore because life is too important. I don’t want to lose my life for a few dollars.
Mr. Mohammed said Uber drivers would be more reluctant to take passengers from Queanbeyan, which already had a reputation for being unsafe.
Another colleague, Shani Qureshi, 27 said he could not understand any radical Islamic motivation for the attack, indicating that both he and Mr. Akbar were Muslims.
“I’ve been here for about two years,” he said.
“I’ve never had any customer talk to me about religion or had any racism. We normally have very good customers.”
Mr. Qureshi said Mr. Akbar was great to work with.
“He was a very nice guy, very helpful.”
He said he and Mr. Akbar had worked together for about a year and a half, more often at the Canberra Airport Caltex than at the Queanbeyan outlet.
“It could have happened with anyone, any one of us,” Mr Qureshi said.
A group of about 30 colleagues and friends of Mr Akbar has gathered this evening on the hill overlooking the service station to chat and pay tribute to him.
Some members of the group laid flowers.
Earlier, Malcolm Turnbull said allegations the teenagers killed a service station employee in Queanbeyan “underline” the government’s concerns about terrorism.
The Prime Minister made a carefully worded statement about the attack when announcing the government’s support for US strikes against Syria on Friday.
“Two juvenile males, a 15-year-old and 16-year-old male are in custody following the alleged murder of a 29-year-old man in Queanbeyan overnight.”
“Our condolences go to the family of the victim. We send our prayers and best wishes to the two other victims of that evening,” he said.
Mr Turnbull did not specifically label the event as a terror attack but said the Australian Federal Police’s counter-terror team was investigating the matter.
“The police will be making a statement about this but I can say that the circumstances have raised sufficient concern, as I have discussed with the Commissioner of the AFP, Andrew Colvin, raise sufficient concern to warrant the involvement of the joint counter-terrorism team,” he said.
He said the events “underline” the government concerns about terrorism.
“The police will have more to say about it but the involvement in this crime of two males, two youths, and teenagers is shocking and a matter which underlines many of the concerns we have raised in this field,” Mr Turnbull said.
With Emily Ritchie