A 21-year-old British woman has died and a 30-year-old British man is in a critical condition after being stabbed at a backpackers’ hostel in Queensland, Australia, by a man who allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.
The woman, named locally as Mia Ayliffe-Chung, from Derbyshire, was described as “gorgeous” by friends.
Police said a 29-year-old French national carried out the knife attack in Queensland which also left a 30-year-old British man in a critical condition.
Monique Cross, an Australian friend of Miss Ayliffe-Chung, told the Press Association: “She was a gorgeous person. It’s an awful tragedy - I can’t believe it.”
The stabbing happened an accommodation complex in the Home Hill area of Queensland at around 11.15pm local time on Tuesday, police said.
Queensland deputy police commissioner Steve Gollschewski said all motivations were being considered, including criminal and political, as well as the impact of drugs and mental health problems.
This is not about race or religion. It is individual criminal behaviour.Deputy police commissioner Steve Gollschewski
He said: “Initial inquiries indicate that comments which may be construed as being of an extremist nature were made by the alleged offender.
“It is alleged that the suspect used the phrase ‘Allahu Akbar’ during the attack and when arrested by police.”
Police said up to 30 people witnessed the “senseless act of violence” in which a 46-year-old local man also suffered non life-threatening injuries.
Friends paid tribute on Facebook, with Tom Paenga writing: “R.I.P Mia. I know that I will not find someone like you again, so happy, so motivating, in good times and in bad times always you were drawing a smile...
“My condolences to your family and to those who had the pleasure of meeting you. Taken to soon but never forgotten!!!”
Kyle Godwin wrote: “We really do live in a cruel world. The only good thing to come from this is that heaven really truly has gained an amazing and beautiful soul. I love you more then anything in this world beautiful”.
The attack happened at Shelley’s Backpackers accommodation in Home Hill, a small town which is a popular place for backpackers to find fruit picking work. It is about 62 miles from the coastal city of Townsville, North Queensland.
According to social media, Miss Ayliffe-Chung was only days into a three-month trip working with animals on a farm and had been posting diary entries on Facebook with pictures, sharing her experiences with friends.
Her latest post, on Saturday, read: “Day 4 done. Just 85 left! Skills achieved; the ability to tell the difference between a rock and a clump of mud and throwing stones really far. The sun is too hot. Stupid Australia.”
Amy Browne, 19, from the Gold Coast, who worked as a bartender at the Bedroom Lounge Bar where Miss Ayliffe-Chung was a waitress, told the Press Association: “Mia was honestly the most bubbliest and most caring girl I knew.
“She got along with everyone she met, she just had that gorgeous personality that everyone seemed to enjoy.
“She always had a smile on her face, so innocent and full of life and love. Our memories will be cherished forever and I know she’d want us all to stay positive in the darkest of times. Rest in peace my beautiful friend, heaven has truly gained another angel.”
Detective Superintendent Ray Rohweder from the Queensland Police Service said officers were confronted with a “terrible scene” when they arrived.
Miss Ayliffe-Chung was found dead at the scene and the British man, who has not been identified, was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. A dog was also killed in the attack.
The arrested man has been transferred to hospital for treatment for non life-threatening injuries. He is a visitor to Australia who has been in the country since around March on a temporary visa and has no known local connections, Mr Gollschewski said.
He said they were still trying to find out what he has been doing in the country since his arrival but he was not known to police before the attack.
Mr Gollschewski added: “This is not about race or religion. It is individual criminal behaviour.”
The fact that the suspect shouted the phrase “Allahu Akbar” - which means God is Greatest in Arabic - had been confirmed as officers were wearing body-worn video cameras.
Local MP George Christensen said on Twitter: “Backpacker in Home Hill in my electorate killed by man who yelled “Allahu Akbar” when arrested by police.”
The attacker is believed to have been acting alone and police have retrieved a knife which is believed to have been the weapon.
Mr Gollschewski said Miss Ayliffe-Chung was the first person to be attacked and that the incident was being treated as a murder case, not a terror attack.
Mr Rohweder added: “Witnesses have said that they have observed the person attacking one of the persons and as a result of that there was another altercation and subsequently the male person has gone back upstairs at the accommodation complex.”
Two police officers arrived and the attacker was asked to lie on the ground before being arrested.
On July 19, Miss Ayliffe-Chung wrote on Facebook about being away from her family and home: “The hardest thing living my dream, missing the important home things. Graduations, people in hospital, funerals and birthdays.”
Tommy Martin, 24, from Newbury, Berkshire, who met Miss Ayliffe-Chung in Bali before reuniting on the Gold Coast, told the Press Association: “She was a free spirit who didn’t have any set plans but that’s the way she loved it.
“Although I didn’t know her for long, on behalf of myself and Ryan, it was great to meet her.
“I’m very shocked to see this and to be honest I’ve never known anyone to die so it’s a bit much.”