Terror plotters drew inspiration from 2018 Bourke St attack, court told

Terror plotters drew inspiration from 2018 Bourke St attack, court told

June 15, 2021

On a Friday night in 2018, as Melbourne reeled from the terror attack hours earlier in Bourke Street, Ertunc Eriklioglu excitedly told his brother and their friend about what he had seen and read in the news.

“That’s amazing,” Eriklioglu said of Hassan Khalif Shire Ali’s actions in setting his ute alight and then stabbing three men before he was fatally shot by police. Much-loved restaurateur Sisto Malaspina, one of the men stabbed, died.

Ertunc Eriklioglu after his arrest on November 20, 2018.Credit:Justin McManus

“Let’s do something, yeah? Let’s do something,” Eriklioglu said to younger brother Samed and their friend, Hanifi Halis, in the garage of Ertunc’s Dallas home.

From that night and for the following 10 days the trio began planning and preparing to conduct their own terror attack on Melbourne, based on buying a .22 semi-automatic assault rifle with an intention to shoot and kill as many people as possible.

The three men drew inspiration and motivation from Shire Ali’s actions in their wish to conduct jihad and advance extreme Islam by gunning down “non-believers”, prosecutor Darren Renton told the County Court at Tuesday’s plea hearing.

They were prepared to die as martyrs and went as far as paying a $450 cash deposit for the rifle, Mr Renton said, but never got their hands on the weapon before their arrests on November 20, 2018.

Samed Eriklioglu after his arrest on November 20, 2018.Credit:Channel Nine

Ertunc Eriklioglu, a 33-year-old father of two, Samed Eriklioglu, 28, and Halis, 23, have each pleaded guilty to conspiring together to do acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The three men worked together in a lawn and gardening business in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and in November 2018 also spent their nights together, discussing what sort of gun they needed and how much money they would have to pay.

They came up with the code word “Iqra books” – a guide for reading the Koran – for referring to the rifle and also discussed dropping explosives from a drone, obtaining night vision goggles and getting physically fit through boxing training, Mr Renton said.

The men also watched and listened to online lectures and propaganda distributed by terror organisations Islamic State and al-Qaeda, the court heard.

Hanifi Halis after his arrest on November 20, 2018.Credit:Nine News

Halis paid a $450 cash deposit for a semi-automatic rifle, Mr Renton said, but the trio never got their hands on the gun.

However in the days after paying the deposit Halis shifted his thinking on the terror plot, the court heard, and asked the Eriklioglu brothers “if we want to do it”.

Ertunc replied: “We’ve got to do it together.” But he also said he would try to get Halis’ deposit back.

On the night of November 19, 2018, Samed and Halis listened to an American cleric preaching about death as they visited a Fawkner cemetery, and Samed said: “The most noble death is the death of a martyr.”

Bourke Street attacker Hassan Khalif Shire Ali confronts police in the moments before he is shot on November 9, 2018.

The three men were arrested in raids the next day, and police discovered hundreds of documents, videos and audio recordings of religious and ideological propaganda downloaded on the trio’s electronic devices. They had also accessed a Turkish website instructing users on “knowledge and jihad”, the court heard.

Defence counsel Julian McMahon, SC, for Halis, said this case was different to every other terror prosecution in Australia, as the men had “pulled out” of the conspiracy before their arrests.

And the offending lacked clarity and sophistication, he said, as the trio never set a specific target or plan and never did any reconnaissance.

Mr McMahon said Halis was radicalised after “being flooded” by violent propaganda he found online in the months before the offending, but no longer held extreme views and was prepared to take part in a deradicalisation program.

The three men have been in custody since their arrests and watched Tuesday’s hearing via a video link.

Lawyers for the Eriklioglu brothers will address judge Michael O’Connell over the next three days.

Judge O’Connell agreed to one lawyer’s request that he alter the court’s sitting hours to fit with the prisoners’ prayer times.

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