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Former SASR Trooper John Anon - frontline police not ready for counter-terrorism

The writer wants to remain anonymous, the way the SAS likes things.  

He served 14 years in the ADF, 9 years as a Royal Australian Regiment infantryman and 5 years with the Special Air Service Regiment. 

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When I served in Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment one of our main roles was Counter Terrorism or CT.  Although we held domestic CT responsibility our focus was on overseas terror threats.  The reason was simple - that’s where the terrorists were. We were prepared for attacks on Australian soil - but there weren’t any.

That’s no longer the case.  Australian governments have imported the types of people we used to deal with offshore.  Jihadis are embedded throughout our community. Our Border Protection Minister says 400 people living in Australia pose a terror threat to us.  ASIO reports it has 400 “high priority” counter terrorism investigations underway.  The threat is real, it’s here - but our first responders aren’t ready for it.

The Bourke Street tragedy last Friday offers us some important lessons.  Dozens of bystanders took out their phones and video-recorded the attack and the police response.  Those videos are frightening - but they should also be a catalyst for significant change.

Based on the video I’ve seen, my post-engagement report would go something like this:

Upon arrival two first responder police saw a tall and powerfully built military-age male of Somali appearance, dressed in traditional Islamic clothing.  He was adjacent to and had apparently alighted from a utility vehicle was was fully engulfed in an unusually fierce fire, suggesting the presence of accelerants and possibly explosives.

At least one lifeless male person lay on the street in a pool of blood.

The target male immediately adopted an aggressive posture toward police.  He was armed with a bloodied knife and he charged at and attempted to stab the two police officers several times.  One bystander intervened using a shopping trolly in an unsuccessful attempt to knock the offender off his feet or distract him - presumably in the belief that police would act to neutralise the threat.  The bystander at one critical stage was knocked off his feet and onto his back laying unprotected and vulnerable to knife attack on the pavement.

The confrontation between the Somali male and police continued for what appeared to be about one minute.  For most of that time police were backing away from the terrorist, often walking backwards on a road with tram tracks and other obstacles. Police did not engage in aggressive action towards the offender until the last few seconds of the encounter.

During the initial stages police adopted an open-armed, non-threatening posture towards the male.  Only the most direct attempts by the offender to stab police were deflected - otherwise police were seen to back away from the armed man.  In the initial stage of the encounter police did not draw weapons.  One officer took cover behind a shoulder-height garbage receptacle.

The offender responded by escalating his aggression towards police and members of the public nearby.

During those first 30 seconds or so the offender was unrestrained.  He was free to use both his hands.  He had attempted to stab police - but both police, although themselves armed with semi-automatic Smith and Wesson .40 pistols retreated from the offender.

In the final stage of the contact one officer continued to attempt the deflection of repeated knife thrusts using an extendable baton.  At the last moment of the encounter one constable fired a single shot from his pistol at point blank range, apparently aimed a the “Centre of the Seen Mass” - or the centre of the target male’s body.  That single shot hit the offender in the chest.  He remained on his feet, grimaced and clutched his chest while he was upstanding for a period of about 1 second after being shot.  He then turned his head to his rear, looked at the pavement, went down first on one knee/thigh and then lay flat on the pavement with his legs outstretched - all the while demonstrating cognition and muscular control.


Those observations describe a textbook example of how not to respond to a Jihadi terrorist who is obviously committing an act of terror.

The burning vehicle should have alerted police to the probability of a large and powerful improvised explosive device.   The Jihadi had chosen the CBD of one of our largest cities on a busy Friday afternoon.  A large Improvised Explosive Device in the vehicle would have caused devastating casualties.  

Police should have presumed the Jihadi was concealing a “suicide vest” packed with high explosives, nails and other shrapnel.  Police allowed this Jihadi about sixty seconds where he was free to use his hands on a triggering device.  That’s an unforgivable error for a counter-terrorist operative.  

Good luck, not good management saved Melbourne.

Those police were brave and dedicated.  But their operating procedures are designed to deal with traditional Western crime.  Terrorism is a different ball-game.

Special Air Service counter terrorist operatives are trained to fire a double-tap - or two consecutive rounds in quick succession - not into the centre of a terrorists body, but directly into his head.  My aiming point was always between the eyes.  It’s essential that once a terrorist is engaged, all brain function should cease.

I’m told that police are trained to “shoot to stop” with their target point the “centre of the seen mass”.  That’s appropriate for a policing response to traditional crime in a civilised society - but it’s a dangerous and deadly response to Jihadi terrorists.

I’m not criticising the individual policemen who were on the spot last Friday.  As far as I can see, they responded to Hassan Khalif Shire Ali’s Jihadi attack on Melbourne by doing precisely what they’d been trained to do.  But that could have had devastating consequences for them and the hundreds of people around them.

The young constable who shot Ali provided a copybook example of someone who’s remembered his training perfectly.  One shot to the man’s middle.  That’s why police training needs an urgent and aggressive overhaul.

Our SAS CT units are trained to shoot terrorists in the head for a reason - to eliminate the threat very quickly.  We understand Jihadi tactics, motivations and intent. Police in Victoria obviously do not - or they’re so restricted from acting realistically they hesitate to conduct themselves effectively.  In terror attacks that can cost innocent lives.

In a situation like that faced by police last Friday there can be only one safe response.  Aggressive engagement with the offender and at least two shots into his head.  Immediately.

That might be asking a bit much of civilian police who qualify on their firearms once a year.  But that shouldn’t stop police from adopting a much more aggressive stance towards Jihadis like Hassan Khalif Shire Ali 

Decent Australians deserve no less.