A Bangladeshi woman who stabbed a man in an Islamic State-inspired attack just days after arriving in Australia last year was sentenced by a Melbourne court to 42 years in prison on terror-related charges, police in Dhaka confirmed Wednesday.
Defendant Momena Shoma, 26, admitted to engaging in a terrorist act when she stabbed Roger Singaravelu, her host, in the neck with a kitchen knife eight days after arriving in Victoria state from Bangladesh on a student visa in early 2018, according to media reports from Australia.
“Shoma was punished in accordance with the laws of Australia. We have nothing to say about the conviction,” Md. Haider Ali Khan, Bangladesh’s assistant police inspector-general said.
“The Australian government sought information about Momena Shoma from us. We cooperated with the government regarding counter-terrorism issues as we maintain zero tolerance in this regard. We share intelligence with Australia and other countries,” he told BenarNews.
Australian police filed terrorism charges against Shoma after she stabbed Singaravelu on Feb. 10, 2018, while he was asleep at his home. Authorities in Australia alleged that she had been inspired by the extremist group Islamic State (IS) to carry out the stabbing, according to local reports. Days later, police in Bangladesh arrested her younger sister after she tried to stab an officer who sought information about Shoma.
“Your deeds and words, and the intentions accompanying them, are chilling,” Judge Lesley Taylor of the Supreme Court of Victoria said Wednesday while handing down the 42-year sentence, with a non-parole period of 31 years and six months, according to Agence France-Presse.
The defendant had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“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,” Taylor said in issuing the sentence, according to News.com.au.
“Your deeds and words … have sent ripples of horror throughout the Australian community,” she said. “But they do not make you a martyr. They do not make you a beacon of Islam.
In Dhaka, a source said that Shoma and her sister were members of a faction of the banned extremist group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
“We have informed the Australian government that both Momena Shoma and her sister Sumona were radicalized watching online contents promoting violent extremism,” an official who requested anonymity told BenarNews.
“We are investigating Sumona’s terrorism charges,” he added.
Bangladeshi officials have denied that Islamic State is present in Bangladesh. Yet authorities have blamed a faction of JMB that swore allegiance to IS for the country’s deadliest terrorist attack, an overnight siege at a café in Dhaka that left 20 hostages dead in July 2016.
Md. Haider Ali Khan, the assistant police inspector-general, said officers arrested Shoma’s younger sister Asmaul Husna, [alias Sumona] on Feb. 12, 2018, just days after the Australian attack. Dhaka Metropolitan Police said Sumona attacked Assistant Commissioner Tohidul Islam while officers were at her apartment seeking information about Shoma.
Practicing on a mattress
Meanwhile, Australian media reported that Shoma had first moved in with a different Australian family under a program for foreign students, and immediately began planning to attack her hosts.
She purchased night vision goggles and rehearsed the act by repeatedly stabbing a mattress. The family discovered the damage and immediately asked the program organizers to remove her from the home.
Shoma was placed with Singaravelu’s family and stabbed him three days later after watching videos about the Islamic State (IS) online, media reports said, citing court records.
Singaravelu, an immigrant from Malaysia, told reporters he was amazed that he survived. He questioned how Shoma had obtained a visa.
“We came from Malaysia, from a Muslim country. We came to Australia for a better life. And most importantly, the security of this country,” he said.
Singaravelu’s wife, Maha Solomon, told ABC News (Australia) that their family had welcomed students from all over the world.
“It was our way of showing our gratitude to Australia to the country that we have come to live in ... by bringing these kids into our family,” she said. “We so innocently took them thinking they needed safety but it has come out the other way.”
Former ambassador Humayun Kabir, acting president of the private think-tank Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, said he did not expect Shoma’s conviction and sentencing to dampen the bilateral relationship between Dhaka and Canberra.
“While this is true that for the first time in Australian history a woman has been jailed for 42 years on terrorism charges, and the woman is a Bangladeshi, this is an isolated incident,” Kabir told BenarNews.
“I think the Australian government also considers Shoma’s as an isolated case. Shoma’s involvement in terrorism will not harm Bangladesh’s relations with Australia,” he said.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.