Blast at Australian Christian group’s building raises concern
Persecution | Police and the victim disagree on a possible motive behind the explosion
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/23/16, 11:03 am
The director of an Australian Christian advocacy group said many unanswered questions remained after a van exploded outside the group’s headquarters Wednesday night. Police said they spoke with the driver and members of his family and concluded the explosion had no political or religious motivation.
The Australian Capital Territory Policing confirmed a 35-year-old Australian man drove the van that exploded next to the headquarters of Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in Canberra. Police said in a statement the driver “appeared to have ignited gas cylinders within the vehicle.” The driver is in stable condition at a hospital in Sydney. ACL director Lyle Shelton confirmed no member of his staff was hurt.
Shelton, who was selected this month as WORLD’s Daniel of the Year, initially described the explosion as an attack on ACL, which advocates for maintaining the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and against the government-backed “Safe Schools” program that encourages the promotion of gender fluidity in schools.
Shelton said he neither knows the suspect, nor can he confirm the motivation behind the explosion, but the police conclusion does not line up. He explained at a press conference that ACL had received multiple death threats throughout the year because of its advocacy efforts. The attack appeared to be more than a random act, Shelton said, since the ACL office is off any major roads in the area.
“You don’t just drive around the corner here at 10 o’clock at night, park a van loaded with gas cylinders, then detonate it unless you’re trying to send a message to the ACL,” Shelton said. “I’m sure it’s a message to intimidate us, to cause us to be silent in the public square, and that’s something we’re not prepared to do.”
Shelton told a television station in Sydney the explosion came from a car bomb and seemed to be a failed suicide-bombing attempt. Video footage has shown the driver speeding toward the building in a rented van.
ACL has received bipartisan condolences since the explosion. Liberal Sen. Eric Abetz told Sydney’s Channel 7 News he found it strange that certain details were left out of the case.
“Unless you believe that this was a very random parking of the vehicle and then the gas bottles and other things in the vehicle, then it starts to raise that there might have been a motivation,” Abetz said.
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan expressed his condolences and said police ruled out the possibility of a targeted attack but would continue to work with the ACL to ensure their safety.
“The police are obviously continuing their investigations,” Keenan said. “When they have a motivation, when they have something to update the Australian people about, they will do so.”
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.