Sydney mall stabbings: Police name attacker

Warning: some may find content distressing

Detectives are investigating the life and background of a 40-year-old man who killed six people during a stabbing attack at a busy Sydney shopping centre before being fatally shot by police. 

Police were called to the Westfield Bondi Junction mall in the city's east just before 4pm on Saturday (local time) after the stabbing reports.

Witnesses described how the man, who has been identified by police as Joel Cauchi, wore shorts and an Australian national rugby league jersey.

The 40-year-old from Queensland was seen running through the mall with a knife randomly attacking people. Some shoppers and staff at the mall tried to stop him and crowds sheltered in shuttered shops.

"We have seen the footage of ordinary Australians putting themselves in harm's way in order to help their fellow citizens. That bravery was quite extraordinary ... it's the best of Australians amidst this tragedy," Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday.

Cauchi fatally knifed six people and injured at least 12 before he was shot dead by a senior female police officer who confronted him and told him to put the weapon down, it has been reported.

Police have ruled out terror or ideology as a motive.

"This was a terrible scene," Assistant Commissioner Anthony Cooke told a media conference on Sunday, who confirmed the man was known to police in Queensland.

"There is still to this point, nothing that we have, no information we received, no evidence we have recovered or intelligence that we have gathered that would suggest that this was driven by any particular motivation, ideology or otherwise."

Joel Cauchi in the mall yesterday. Image: The Guardian via X
Joel Cauchi in the mall yesterday. Image: The Guardian via X

Cooke said it had been determined Cauchi had suffered mental health issues in the past and police had spoken to his family after the attack.

Five of the six victims killed were women, and a number of people including a nine-month-old baby were taken to hospital with stab wounds. The baby was in a serious but stable condition, police said.

The mother of the baby was reported by local media as having died in hospital from her injuries. 

The shopping centre is closed and will be an active crime scene for days.

Australia, a country of about 26 million people, has some of the world's toughest gun and knife laws, and attacks such as the one on Saturday are rare.

Armed police move through shops at Westfield Bondi Junction in Sydney's east after a man attacked...
Armed police move through shops at Westfield Bondi Junction in Sydney's east after a man attacked shoppers yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Cauchi was seen on CCTV entering the centre about 3.10pm, leaving, and then returning a short time later, when he attacked nine people, Cooke earlier told reporters.

New South Wales Premier Chris Minns said it was a truly shocking day in the state's history.

"I can understand that people will be grieving and very angry for the next few days," Mr Minns told Sydney radio 2GB on Saturday from Japan's Tokyo Airport, where he was waiting for a flight home.

"It's literally everyone's worst nightmare ... a wicked and a violent crime."

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the AFP was providing support and that Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and other agencies were involved in briefings.

Prime Minister Albanese said the attack was a horrific act of violence indiscriminately targeting innocent people, and praised the actions of the nearby NSW Police inspector who responded alone as hundreds of shoppers fled the scene.

"She is certainly a hero, there is no doubt she saved lives through her actions."

Federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton said there was heroism amongst the horror. "We thank everyday Australians who helped each other get to safety and those who provided comfort to others in distress," he said on social media.

Footage from inside showed people fleeing as a man armed with a knife chased them through the centre.

One man was seen in a stand-off with the attacker, holding a bollard at the top of an escalator and confronting the armed man as he approached.

The female police inspector caught up with Cauchi on level five of the centre as people fleeing gave directions, shooting him dead at the scene.

Like all shootings involving NSW Police the investigation will be overseen by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said the inspector was doing well under the circumstances and will be interviewed on Sunday.

"She showed enormous courage and bravery," Ms Webb said, adding other responding police, civilians and staff at the centre had too.

"It was an awful situation ... but it could have been much worse."

'People were terrified'

Emergency services were called to the mall, about 3km from Sydney's Bondi Beach and popular with children and families, just before 4pm, police said.

Multiple posts on social media showed crowds of people outside the shopping centre as it was placed into lockdown.

One man told ABC: "They just said run, run, run someone's been stabbed."

"(The attacker) was walking really calmly like he was having an ice cream in a park. And then he went up the escalators ... and probably within about a minute we heard three gunshots," he said.

Another witness told 7News the responding police inspector had saved lives.

"If she didn't shoot he would have kept going and I don't know how many more he would have done," he said.

Other witnesses told of grabbing their children and running from the centre along with hundreds of other people.

Ayush Singh, 25, was working in a cafe in the mall when he saw the attack and then heard gunshots as police responded.

"I saw the guy with the knife running and chasing people. As he walked just past beside me I heard two or three gunshots and the guy was neutralised," he told Reuters.

"People around me were terrified. There were some old ladies I helped to get them inside a safe place inside the cafe."

Two other witnesses told Reuters they heard shots.

"Even 20 minutes after people were rushed out of the mall, I saw SWAT teams of people sweeping the surrounding streets," one witness said.

The other witness said they saw a woman lying on the ground and took shelter in a jewellery store.

An eyewitness described the police officer shooting the attacker to state broadcaster ABC.

"If she did not shoot him, he would have kept going, he was on the rampage," said the man, who did not give his name. "She went over and was giving him CPR. He had a nice big blade on him. He looked like he was on a killing spree."

Other witnesses said the man was wearing shorts and an Australian national rugby league jersey, and looked confused and appeared to attack randomly.

“He was not looking for anyone personally,” one witness said on TV. “He was just running around with his knife.”

Several posts on social media showed crowds fleeing the mall and police cars and emergency services rushing to the area.

One video show a man confronting the attacker with a bollard from the top of an escalator. Others showed people trying to move the injured to safety and help others hide in shops.

"I just saw the footage of the guy with the bollard, I reckon he’s the real hero here,” Bondi Rescue lifeguard Andy Reid, who was also shopping at the mall, told the Sydney Morning Herald. Reid also attended to a woman who was bleeding on the fourth floor.

'Australia is family'

World leaders were quick to send messages of support to the Australian people.

King Charles III said in a statement that he and Queen Camilla were "utterly shocked and horrified to hear of the tragic stabbing incident in Bondi" and praised the bravery of first responders at the scene.

"My wife and I were utterly shocked and horrified to hear of the tragic stabbing incident in Bondi. Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those who have been so brutally killed during such a senseless attack. While details of these shocking circumstances are still emerging, our thoughts are also with those who were involved in the response, and we give thanks for the bravery of the first responders and emergency services." 

The Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Catherine said:  "We are shocked and saddened by the terrible events in Sydney earlier today. Our thoughts are with all those affected, including the loved ones of those lost and the heroic emergency responders who risked their own lives to save others."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Christopher Luxon highlighted the bond between the two nations. 

"Australia is family. So, all New Zealanders are thinking of those affected by the tragic events in Bondi, especially the family and friends of those killed today. Exceptional courage from NSW Police, first responders and members of the public." 

UK Prime Minister Riski Sunak said: "The horrific attacks at Bondi Junction are truly devastating. My heart goes out to those affected by this abhorrent act of violence, and I pray for the recovery of those left injured and traumatised today. You are in the thoughts and prayers of the British people." 

At The Vatican, Pope Francis also expressed his sadness at the "senseless tragedy" and offered his "spiritual closeness" to all those affected.

"His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the violent attack in Sydney, and he sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by this senseless tragedy, especially those who are now mourning the loss of a loved one. He likewise offers his prayers for the dead, the injured, as well as the first responders, and invokes upon the nation the divine blessings of consolation and strength." 

- additional reporting by Reuters 

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter