When an attempted murderer opened fire inside the Canberra Airport last year, it was the first time a shooting had occurred at an Australian airport.
The gunman, Ali Rachid Ammoun, has now been sentenced to a total of three years and three months’ jail over the incident.
He took a taxi to the airport on the afternoon of 14 August 2022 and walked inside the terminal to enact what he’d been planning for the prior three days, Magistrate Ian Temby told the ACT Magistrates Court on Friday (31 March).
He then took a modified .38/200 Smith & Wesson revolver out of his bag, loaded it and fired five rounds into the airport’s windows.
Afterwards, he turned to a couple sitting nearby and said, “I won’t harm you, don’t be upset”. They fled as he put down the gun. He then sat and waited for police to arrive.
The shots were heard by those in the airport, including passengers, staff and children, and caused panic and chaos. People ran, screaming and yelling from the noise to find refuge in places like lounges, offices and bathrooms. Some had to carry young children as they fled.
“I actually did think this could be the end of my life,” one said.
“We both felt very vulnerable with our backs to the offender,” said another.
One woman in the airport with her family thought it was a “terrorist attack” and ran, but she tripped and fell, breaking her leg.
She said she, her family and her children had been traumatised by the shooting.
Magistrate Temby said 15 victims had written statements for the court detailing the impact the incident had on them, and several talked about being afraid they would be shot.
“Several witnesses were concerned they might die,” he said.
In 2008, Ammoun was convicted of attempting to murder his ex-wife, as well as other charges, for which he was sentenced to 16 years’ jail by the Supreme Court of Western Australia. He was on parole for this sentence at the time of the airport shooting.
Ammoun, who suffers from delusional and narcissistic personality disorders, said “every crime has a reason”, and when he shot the windows, it had nothing to do with Canberra or its residents.
He said he wanted to send a message to the Australian Government because he claims he spent years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
He doesn’t accept his 2008 convictions, describing them as “allegations”, and had reached out to many people about them, including members of parliament and journalists, but said everyone was “too worried to talk”.
The attempted murder offence was committed against his second ex-wife, the mother of seven of his children, and he had told an expert, “My second wife stabbed herself”.
Ammoun claimed the people who had wronged him were ultimately responsible for what happened at the airport.
“I’m a justice fighter. That is my job now,” he said.
“The only way to get the justice I deserve is to make a big statement.”
His lawyer, Tamzin Lee from Legal Aid, argued that at the time of the shooting he’d been having financial difficulties, was getting nowhere in his attempts to get help for the perceived injustice against him and had been in a state of frustration.
The 63-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of recklessly discharging a firearm at a building, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail, as well as unauthorised possession of a firearm.
Magistrate Temby said the discharging a firearm offence was a “very serious” example of the charge, noting he fired the gun five times around members of the public and that people could have been injured.
“Discharging a firearm in a public place is an inherently dangerous act,” he said.
While Ammoun claimed he hadn’t seen more than 20 people in the airport, the magistrate said, “His actions exposed many people, clearly in excess of 20, to feelings of fear and alarm”.
Magistrate Temby said no matter what Ammoun’s views were, his actions were not justified and he did not accept Ammoun was truly remorseful as he’d demonstrated a lack of responsibility for his behaviour.
The magistrate said the protection of the community was his highest consideration on sentencing, given in part how the shooter sought “revenge” for perceived injustices against him.
Ammoun, who has been in custody since he was arrested after the shooting, was convicted and handed a non-parole period of two years and two months’ jail, which means he is eligible to be released in October 2024.
When will the ACT give the flick to rattenbury and the greens? View