Grand Central incident reflects impacts of terror: advocate
HEIGHTENED concerns for public safety in the wake of global terror incidents and a misunderstanding triggered the evacuation of a major Toowoomba shopping centre yesterday.
But a social justice advocate is warning against the risk people will resort to religious and racial profiling amid the backdrop of heightened threat levels around the world.
The comment comes after hundreds of people were evacuated from Grand Central about 5.40am yesterday following reports two men of "Middle Eastern appearance" were seen walking into the centre carrying knives.
A security guard reported the men to police which triggered a detectives, general duties officers and the Toowoomba Dog Squad to swarm the area.
Surrounding streets were closed and the centre locked down as they searched for the two "suspect males" who were located among the evacuated crowd outside the centre.
"The two male persons, aged 25 and 26, were taken into custody and searched," Toowoomba City Patrol Group Inspector Stephen Angus said.
"They were located in possession of box cutters and bladed paint scrapers.
"The investigations by plain clothes staff found the suspect males were in fact cleaners employed by a business within the Grand Central shopping centre.
"Subsequent to those inquiries, two people were released when their particulars were confirmed, without charge."
Insp. Angus defended the heavy police presence due to heightened safety concerns for the wider public and the initial information reported.
He commended the vigilance of the security guard in quickly reporting the information, mindful that hundreds of people were inside the centre despite the early hour.
"The information was that these two males were in fact observed by shop security and the witness relayed to police they were in possession of knives," Insp. Angus said.
"We've seen from a number of related incidents overseas where low level, or low-sophisticated acts have been perpetrated on mass gatherings.
"Public safety is our main concern.
"That doesn't mean they pose a threat but the initial report was that they were both armed with knives and as primary responders, our view is to protect the community."
Toowoomba Social Justice Commission executive officer Dr Mark Copland said while global terror-related incidents had created a heightened sense of fear in the community, he urged people against racial or religious profiling.
"It must have been terrifying for staff and shoppers, but also for the two men concerned," he said.
"It's more than understandable there is a heightened sense of fear and danger, especially in places where large people congregate like shopping centres.
"It's great that the police were so quick to respond and that the public is front and centre, the number one priority.
"My only word of caution is we just need to be careful that we don't profile people from different backgrounds.
"Remember one of the most recent attacks was a white Caucasian man driving a van into a crowd."
Dr Copland urged the community to look beyond race and religion and to question what about the two men walking to work at Grand Central was suspicious.
"It will be people of colour and different religions who will come under suspicion when we look at danger, and we need to ask ourselves does the racial background make any difference?" he said.
"We're really blessed in Australia that we don't have that problem unlike places like the United States where people are profiled."
Insp. Angus said public safety was paramount in all police responses to incidents.
"Police as an organisation, both state and nationally, are on a heightened level of threat assessment of incidents such as they were described to us today," he said.
"It was a good opportunity for us as police to test our response to an incident such as this, and deploy our resources.
"We would rather ensure the public safety than not."
The two men, released without charge, were Toowoomba residents in Australia with valid work visas.