A 61-year-old man allegedly set himself on fire before driving a car with two gas cylinders into a police station in Merrylands, western Sydney.
Several minutes into incident, a Sydney police source told Fairfax Media that “very deliberate attack on the station,” while other local news outlets quickly declared it an “attempted terror attack” in bold headlines, citing more unnamed law-enforcement sources.
Update - #Sydney police sources described incident in which man drove car laden with gas cylinders into car park as attempted terror attack— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) July 21, 2016
#BREAKING: Police sources have told the ABC there has been an attempted terror attack directed against a western Sydney police station.— Siobhan Fogarty (@Siobhan_Fogarty) July 21, 2016
However, a couple of hours later, as the police revealed the identity of the perpetrator they, and subsequently the media, backtracked from the initial claim that the attack was related to terrorism.
61-year-old Peter Zhurawel, a Czech national of “Caucasian appearance,” was identified as the attacker. Although he used cylinders filled with gasoline for the attack, he told the police that he had a bomb.
Zhurawel was known to the police. In fact, he was due to appear in Fairfield Local Court the same week as the attack “on an apprehended violence order involving a male relative.”
Although the police previously called it a deliberate attack on the police station, they later ruled out any link to terrorism, saying the man had a history of serious mental health issues.
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Of course, this abrupt change in labeling of the incident from an attempted/deliberate terror attack to a violent episode ensuing from mental health issues prompted a lot of criticism against police and the media, and perhaps rightly so.
Police officials and mainstream media usually link acts of violence to terrorism only when the attacker is Muslim or happens to look like one.
But when it comes to white perpetrators committing same heinous crimes, they are, more often than not, called troubled, alienated loners with mental health problems. [Recent examples: Dylann Storm Roof, a 22-year-old white man, who faces the death penalty if convicted in the shootings of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. Thomas Mair, a 52-year-old man being held in connection with the death of British MP Jo Cox on June 16, 2016.]
The double-standards are unbelievably transparent and a lot of people pointed out a similar display of hypocrisy in the case of the attempted attack on Merrylands Police Station:
EVERYONE RELAX, IT WAS JUST A WHITE DUDE TRYING TO BLOW UP A POLICE STATION. https://t.co/pay8mEO9N6— Aamer Rahman (@aamer_rahman) July 21, 2016
Where are the liveblogs and the rolling TV coverage and terrorism experts opining on Merrylands? Not there. Because racism.— Bernard Keane (@BernardKeane) July 21, 2016
So he's white.— kezz (@kezhall) July 21, 2016
Must be mental issues then.
Not white male terrorism. #Merrylands
#Merrylands attack. People started using the word terror & terrorist on social media until it was confirmed to be a white non Muslim.— Ahmed Bise (@BiseAhmed) July 21, 2016
The backtracking was particularly embarrassing for conservative Australian MP George Christensen, who used the initial reports to engage in some anti-Islam fear-mongering in a rather lengthy Facebook post:
Naturally, Christensen (sort of) retracted his initial statement when the attack on Merrylands was found not to be an act of terrorism:
"New reports in [sic] state that surprisingly for Merrylands, this incident may not have been a terrorist attack as the ABC originally reported it to be. News is still rolling in, so we will see ... I say again: we need to discuss the rise of radical Islam within Australia and the threat it poses to national security."
Zhurawel has been arrested. He remains in a serious but stable condition in Royal North Shore hospital.