Chapter 3 – The radicalisation of Shaun Cunningham
Chiko’s killer was Shaun Cunningham, a petty criminal from Deer Park in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs. He was twenty-four years old and had been in and out of youth detention centres or jail since he was fifteen. Both parents had only recently retired, his father had his own plumbing business and his mother was a primary school teacher, he has two older sisters Deidre and Ashleigh. From all accounts, they were a loving family of catholic background. All three Cunningham children went to St. Brendan’s Primary School and attended secondary school at the Catholic Regional College. Both girls went to University, Deidre became an architect, while Ashleigh followed her mother’s footsteps and became a primary teacher.
Cunningham was an attentive student with good grades, he excelled in science and maths. He was good at sport, playing competition basketball and cricket. In his early teens, he declared that he would become a helicopter pilot with the Royal Australian Navy. Those that knew him, believed that there wasn’t any doubt that he would achieve his goal.
On a Saturday night in January 2006 while most of his mates were away on holiday, he reluctantly accepted an invitation to hang out with a casual acquaintance, Patrick Brain who he knew from school and the local neighbourhood. Brain was given the nickname Arthur which he accepted as a term of endearment believing it to something noble, like King Arthur. Little did he know, he was the subject of ridicule by Cunningham and his mates. One time, Cunningham was watching the Italian Job on DVD when he heard Charlie Croker (played by Michael Caine, now sir Michael Caine - the famous British actor) refer to Arthur (played by Michael Standing) as what sounded like Arfa (in his Cockney accent). Cunningham associated Arfa with half-a and immediately thought Arfa Brain. From then on Patrick Brain was referred to as Arthur by Cunningham and his mates.
Cunningham normally wouldn’t hang out with Brain, but not much else was happening at the time so he decided “what the heck!”
He arrived at Brain’s house just as Brain’s parents were on the way out for the night.
“We won’t be home ’til about midnight” his father said, “have fun you two, and stay out of my bar” he joked.
Brain’s dad never suspected for a minute that his son would have a drink. He was so pleased that he had a friend over, he was starting to worry that his son didn’t have any friends.
After an hour or so of playing video games, Brain suggested “would you like a Bourbon and Coke?”
“Where ya gunna get that from?” Cunningham queried.
“From dad’s bar,” Brain replied, “he’s got heaps, if we took a little bit out each bottle he won’t even notice”.
“Well, okay, I’m not gunna be around when your dad finds out any way!” Cunningham replied.
Cunningham had never had alcohol before and he wasn’t ready to try some just yet, but he felt he had to live up to his reputation as being one of the ‘cool kids’, so he went along with it. Brain also was a first-time drinker, he wanted so hard to fit in with Cunningham’s gang, he felt this was a way to make a big impression.
Over the course of about ninety minutes, they had each downed two glasses of Bourbon and Coke, two glasses of Ouzo and Coke and a Gin and orange juice.
They were both starting to feel a bit peckish when Brain suddenly suggested, “d’ya wanna go ‘n’ get some Maccas?”
The nearest MacDonald’s outlet was approximately three kilometres from Brain’s house.
“I dunno if I can’t be bothered to walk that far, I haven’t got my bike!” Cunningham replied.
“We’ll take mum’s car” Brain remarked, “so long as we’re back before she gets home, she’ll never know!”
“I dunno Arthur what if the cops catch us?”
“Don’t be such a panic merchant, we’ll take the back streets, we only have to cross Ballarat Road at Maccas”.
Although he wasn’t too keen, Cunningham reluctantly agreed. They drove to the nearest MacDonald’s store which was situated on the Corner of the Western Highway and Westwood Drive, Deer Park. They pulled up at the Drive thru, Brain ordered a Bic Mac meal while Cunningham ordered a Quarter-Pounda-meal. As they were receiving their order, a police divisional van (Sunshine three-nineteen) pulled into the drive through, the two constables were taking a code- three-meal- break and were about to place their order. Brain noticed them in his rear vision mirror, suddenly, his face went pale, his heart started racing and he was trembling all over. He, tried to stay calm and not draw any attention to himself, but he just wanted to get away from there as quickly as possible.
He carefully drove out of the Drive-thru and took the wrong exit pulling out onto the Ballarat Road service lane.
“Hey, what the fuck ya doin’?” Cunningham questioned.
“Cops are behind us,”
“What? pull over, I wanna get out” Cunningham demanded.
“Relax mate, they’re still at ‘Maccas’”
Brain drove his mother’s silver-grey 2002 Toyota Corona out of the service lane onto Ballarat Road. He didn’t notice the oncoming red 2005 VZ Holden Commodore SV6 travelling at about sixty-five kilometres per hour in the left lane, it didn’t have a chance to brake and slammed into the driver’s side of Brain’s car.
Patrick David Brain sustained massive trauma to the right side of his head and was airlifted to the Alfred Hospital in East Melbourne. He suffered complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and was declared clinically dead on arrival at Alfred Hospital Emergency Department. An EEG showed no electrical activity in his brain, and an injection of mild radioactive isotopes into the brain revealed the absolute absence of blood flow. The remainder of his organs were still healthy so the medical team placed him on a ventilator and with various medications, they managed to keep blood flowing through his heart and remaining organs. His parents were still in denial when the subject of organ donation was put to them. As a family, they had previously discussed the subject and had agreed to support it. But his heart was beating, the ventilator waspushing oxygen and air into his lungs, they could see his chest rise and fall, there was colour in his skin and he was warm to touch, they felt that he could wake up any minute. A councillor from Transplant Australia met with them to discuss processes of brain death, she helped them through their grief process and discussed organ donation. Doctor’s switched off his life support at 2:23 pm on Sunday 15 January 2006. His heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, cornea and even his skin were harvested, saving or improving the lives of eight other Australians.
A twenty-seven-year-old woman passenger in the commodore suffered a fractured pelvis and abdominal injuries, she was five months pregnant and miscarried her baby girl. Her husband, the driver was not injured. Cunningham suffered a fractured right ankle, bruised shoulder and cuts to his forehead. He was discharged from hospital after two days and had his foot in a plaster for six weeks. Brain’s parents blamed Cunningham and believed that he was the instigator who had forced their son to take the car. They insisted that he be charged with theft of a motor vehicle, they also wanted him charged with manslaughter.
Cunningham was charged with one count of theft of a motor vehicle and his case was heard before a magistrate in the Children’s Court in May 2006.
In handing down his sentence the Magistrate stated “Shaun Michael Cunningham, I find that you are guilty to the theft of a motor vehicle committed on fourteenth of January 2006 at Deer Park. In this court, the maximum penalty for that offence is two-years detention in a juvenile detention facility. Just after 10:30 pm on the day of the offence, you and a co-offender, Patrick David Brain sought to take the motor vehicle owned by the co-offender’s mother and drive to the local MacDonald’s store. Section seventy-three, subsection fourteen of the Crimes Act 1958 states - proof that a person uses, in any manner, a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or lawful possessor is conclusive evidence that the person intended to permanently deprive the owner of that property. - The provision also applies to a person who rides as a passenger in a vehicle he or she knows to be stolen. That is, under Victorian law, even if your intention was to only temporarily deprive a person of the motor vehicle it makes no difference than if you were to permanently deprive the person of that vehicle. That you placed yourself in the vehicle, as a passenger, knowing it to be stolen makes you just as culpable as the driver. I note that you have no prior criminal history and I take into account the character references that I have received from your school principal and your cricket coach. They speak well of you and both attest to the fact that you are a model student of good character and that you come from a loving, supportive family. I also take into account the victim impact statements from your co-offender’s mother and the female passenger. However, during the course of your misadventure, a teenager was tragically killed, an unborn infant also died, while the mother was severely injured. I must seriously consider these circumstances in making my decision. I order that you be placed into the custody of the Department of Human Services for a period of six months”.
Cunningham served his sentence at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre in Parkville. The experience, had changed him from a confident, ambitious ‘A grade’ student, to an angry defeated young man, whose hopes of becoming a Navy Pilot were now shattered. It seemed that everyone, especially the magistrate believed that he was the dominant influence in the theft of the car. No one believed that Brain was the main instigator and that Cunningham merely went along for the ride. While in the youth detention centre, he was quite vulnerable to the stand over tactics of the more experienced criminals at the centre, becoming the victim of bullying and sexual abuse, and he was introduced to steroids and other drugs. When he was released, he had a ten-thousand-dollar drug debt. He had three weeks to pay up or his sisters would be harmed. He turned to breaking into hardware and electrical stores so that he could raise the money to clear his debt. It wasn’t long before police caught up with him and he was soon back in the courts and off to prison.
He continued with the downhill spiral that saw him in and out of prison over the next few years. He had become institutionalised and quite hardened, he himself becoming the stand-over man and tormentor of the newer vulnerable prisoners. In 2013, halfway through an eighteen-month sentence for burglary, he met Paul Stephen Henning, a convicted serial killer with six homicides attributed to him. Police suspected that he was responsible for at least another three killings dating back to the eighties. Henning was sentenced to six life sentences and had already been in jail for twenty-seven years with no prospects for parole. In the early 1990s, he converted to Islam, claimed he was remorseful for his crimes and outwardly portrayed himself to be a religious follower. Authorities believed his actions to me merely a ploy, an attempt to gain parole but for the last twenty or so years he had consistently proved himself as an allegiant Muslim. Although, although he never claimed responsibility for the other three murders police believed that he was responsible for.
Henning proved to be a strong influence on Cunningham who seemed to take genuine interest in the teachings of Muhammad the Prophet. Cunningham volunteered to undergo an intensive drug treatment program in prison which involved counselling, education as well as random and frequent urinalysis testing. To help him manage his cravings for the drugs, he put himself through a rigorous fitness program which included cardiovascular and weight training.
He was released from prison in March 2014, he was drug free, fit, healthy and for the first time since the accident, he was looking forward to the future and ready to get on with his life.
Although they were quite surprised in his new-found faith, his parents were delighted in his change of attitude and positivity. His father had arranged a job for him as a brickie’s Labourer, it was hard work cleaning off bricks, mixing mortar, moving bricks around and doing the brickies’ running around in all kinds of weather, but he thrived in it. He enrolled in a Landscape Design and Construction course at Burnley College, he figured that his current job would be an ideal grounding for landscaping and after a couple of years of work and study he could be ready to start up his own landscaping business.
Cunningham attended the Ardeer Mosque and although he wasn’t into the prayer rituals, he wanted to learn more about Islam. Henning had given him a copy of the Quran and the more he read, the more he began to realise that his past life was preparing him to become a Muslim. He had accepted Islam, he found peace and felt blessed, determined to live a moderate life, determined to accept the prohibition of illegal sex and intoxicants. He had accepted that Islam was the way to enlightenment.
It was around August 2014, he had just left a prayer meeting and was about to get into his car when a young twenty-one-year-old Lebanese-Australian approached him.
“Do you have a question about the Quran?” he asked. “Hello, I am Sheikh Sulayman Abdul-Raya and I can help you to understand your faith and to become a decent Muslim”.
He had been observing Cunningham over a couple weeks and had noticed how awkwardly he was trying to fit in.
“What can you do for me?” Cunningham asked.
“I have been watching you come and go over the last couple of weeks and you are trying to be a good Muslim, you want to learn the teachings of Mahammad but you are finding it somewhat overwhelming”.
“How come I haven’t seen you inside the Mosque before?”
“The Imam feels threatened by my knowledge of Islam and the way I can help the young Muslims see clarity in the teachings of our blessed prophet, he felt that it would best that I prayed at another Mosque”.
The truth was, the Imam knew that Abdul-Raya had no religious qualifications, a real Imam undergoes years of rigorous training. -The Imam had accused Abdul-Raya of being a self-proclaimed sheikh, spreading his dangerous ideology to the young impressionable members of the congregation, he told him that his teachings were un-Islamic and he was not welcome.
So, Abdul-Raya, would spend his time hanging around outside some of Melbourne’s Mosques, targeting susceptible young Muslims, Cunningham was ripe for the picking. Initially, the two would meet for one to two hours, a couple of times a week, discussing the Quran and mainstream traditional Islamic teachings. Once Abdul-Raya had gained Cunningham’s trust, he told him that he should devote more of his time to praying and learning about Islam and invited him to join an Islamist study circle. He was being groomed.
Over the next few months, Cunningham began to spend more and more time with Abdul-Raya who began to describe how the west was out to suppress Islam.
In one rant, Abdul-Raya announced: “The conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan was part of America’s crusade against Islam and all Muslims, so that they could keep all the oil to themselves. Australia, England and Europe are all puppets, accomplices in crimes against us. Do they think that throwing bombs on women and children from afar makes them superior? Do they not realise that those that plot against us are no match for Allah, one by one he will destroy them all? It doesn’t matter how many bombs they throw at us, for those who truly believe in Allah welcome martyrdom, for they know that they are closer to Paradise”.
When Abdul-Raya felt that Cunningham was ready, he introduced him to Mahir El-Mofty, also a self-styled preacher also with no formal religious education, nor much formal education at all for that matter, having dropped out of high school without even completing Year Nine. Iranian born, El-Mofty was in his late forties and migrated to Australia with his family in nineteen-seventy-five, he ran the El- Amin Islamic Information Centre in Broadmeadows, a northern suburb of Melbourne. He had come under the notice of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) due to his radical views, however they were unable to gather enough evidence to make an arrest.
He was even known to taunt the AFP saying “the divine law of the Sharia is the best law for mankind, see how your man-made law of democracy means that you can do nothing to me. Because of your laws, I have the right to teach people the truth about Islam”.
El-Mofty took Cunningham aside.
“We are grateful that Allah has sent you to us, he has big plans for you!”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think that you being-here, now at this very time is just a coincidence?” El-Mofty preached. “I am talking about what is going on in the Holy Land, nobody ever thought that in our lifetime, we would see the establishment of Daulah Islamiyah. It is the duty of all Muslims to migrate to the Holy Land and defend it from the Imperialist aggression of the United States and the so-called Coalition. Allah has chosen you to lead the way”.
“I too am a victim of this government’s injustices and it sickens me the way Muslims are treated even in this country,” Cunningham replied, “but what can I do, I do not think that I am ready to become a martyr”.
“You are too important to our cause on the ground, Allah will decide when you are ready for Heaven,” El-Mofty declared. “I want you to go about your life as normal, keep up your prayers but do not spend too much time with other Muslims. You are to work hard in your job, keep very fit and do some of those decadent things that Aussies do. We want to make sure that you do not come under the radar of the corrupt police forces. When he is ready, Allah will send for you, can you do that?”
“Yes, thank you” Cunningham replied, “Allahu Akbar!”
“Allahu Akbar my friend” El-Mofty responded, “one more thing, your name shall be Mahomet Najim which means praise-worthy star, but keep your English name until Allah sends for you!”
And that was that, Cunningham did not need any more convincing, to him everything that Abdul-Raya and El-Mofty had told him made sense. Over the previous couple of months Abdul-Raya constantly bombarded him with their brand of idealistic propaganda, convincing him that he was highly valued and building up his self-esteem. He was probably already convinced, but El-Mofty sealed the deal. Cunningham was convinced that Muslims all over the world were being treated unjustly just as he believed he had been treated after the accident. He felt that he now had a purpose, he was needed, he was respected and appreciated, something he hadn’t felt in quite a long time. He followed El-Mofty’s instructions, worked on his fitness and made sure that he kept a low profile and he longed for the day when he would be called for.
 El-Amin is an Arabic name meaning “Truthful”
 Islamic State - has no legitimacy, it is however, a highly-organised band of thugs using widespread killing, terrorism, and violence to advance their agenda. This violently expanding group has no centralised political institutions to facilitate just governance and will never receive recognition as a State.