BABY FACED: Why tiny terrorist got 42 years

 

Momena Shoma spent four minutes holding a knife, trying desperately to drive the fatal blow into Roger Singaravelu's neck.

The diminutive Bangladeshi student shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) over and over inside the bedroom of a brick house at Mill Park in Melbourne's northeast. All the while, Mr Singaravelu's daughter was watching, screaming.

More than a year after the terrifying, near fatal attack, the six-year-old is still tormented by what she saw on February 9, 2018.

It was planned, premeditated and practised but ultimately unsuccessful. The then 25-year-old's bold plan to travel to Australia and kill in the name of Islamic State fell short of its goal - Mr Singaravelu survived.

Despite that, Shoma - who had been in Australia for just eight days before she attacked Mr Singaravelu - was jailed yesterday for 42 years. She will serve a minimum of 31 years.

The sentence is, at face value, especially lengthy for a crime that did not result in death. But experts say Shoma falls into a category all of her own.

Momena Shoma tried to kill her host.
Momena Shoma tried to kill her host.

 

Dr Nigel Stobbs from the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology explained why Shoma's sentence was so long.

 

The 26-year-old will spend at least 31 years in jail.
The 26-year-old will spend at least 31 years in jail.

 

 

"Even for something like a murder it would be exceptionally long, but in this case it probably isn't so," he told news.com.au.

He said Shoma is the first person in Australia to be convicted of engaging in a terrorist act in the name of violent jihad.

"The maximum penalty for carrying out a terrorist act - it's life. In Victoria, that means the duration of a person's natural life. Theoretically the court could've put her away until she dies. It's very rare that someone is locked up forever."

He said the main reason Shoma was punished so severely has little to do with the physical attack on the 54-year-old Homestay host.

"The offence itself is designed, aimed at a strike at the heart of the community," Dr Stobbs said.

"The offender, or the terrorist, is trying to weaken the fabric of society itself. So even though the immediate victim is one person, it's aimed at society and not treated like a typical personal offence."

 

Momena Shoma pleaded guilty to engaging in a terrorist act last year. Picture: Erik Anderson/AAP
Momena Shoma pleaded guilty to engaging in a terrorist act last year. Picture: Erik Anderson/AAP

The comments reflect a point made by Supreme Court Justice Lesley Taylor during sentencing yesterday.

Justice Taylor said the attack was about terrorism, even though it failed.

"At the scene, you told police that you had come to Australia to carry out the attack because you were ordered to do so by the caliph of Islamic State," she said.

"Your deeds and words … have sent ripples of horror throughout the Australian community. But they do not make you a martyr. They do not make you a beacon of Islam.

"They do not give you green wings to ascend to Jannah (Islamic heaven).

"They make you an undistinguished criminal. You should not mistake your passing notoriety for importance, nor equate it with achievement."

Dr Stobbs said the sentence is also designed to act as a deterrent to others considering carrying a terror act in Australia.

 

Blood on the garage floor at the home in Mill Park. Picture: Sarah Matray
Blood on the garage floor at the home in Mill Park. Picture: Sarah Matray

 

"Even though we know it's unlikely to deter hardcore terrorists, it's important that the community knows the message is being sent on our behalf," he said.

"(Shoma) still needs to understand that even though she has shown no regard for the system, it still has regard for her."

The 26-year-old, who was raised in an upper-middle-class family in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, has never shown any remorse for what she did.

A court previously heard Shoma, who was attending Latrobe University, had been boarding with another family before Mr Singaravelu took her in.

She had practised her attack by stabbing a mattress, magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg said last year.

"She did the practice run on the mattress with the first family that hosted her and they felt intimidated enough to go to whoever organised it, saying, 'We're scared, we don't want her to continue living with us,'" he told the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

 

Roger Singaravelu said yesterday that he was lucky to be alive. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP
Roger Singaravelu said yesterday that he was lucky to be alive. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP

 

A relieved Mr Singaravelu said outside court yesterday that he is lucky to be alive. Describing the attack three months later, in May last year, he said: "She was holding the handle, leaning against me and all she kept saying was 'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar'."

He told A Current Affair he had been "woken up" by his daughter screaming when he realised what was happening.

"I was pleading with her and saying 'Please let go, Shoma, please let go, we will talk'. I told my daughter, 'run'."

He said he grabbed the knife, which had penetrated three centimetres into his neck, "because if she's going to push more, I know that I'm going to die".

Shoma must serve at least three-quarters of her sentence before being eligible for parole meaning she cannot be released for 31 years at the earliest.

Upon her release, she will be deported.

rohan.smith1@news.com.au | @ro_smith

Police tape across the front yard of Mr Singaravelu’s home. Picture: Sarah Matray
Police tape across the front yard of Mr Singaravelu’s home. Picture: Sarah Matray


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