Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sydney | Bomb extortion case has experts baffled

AS the teenager at the centre of a Sydney bomb scare emerged to seek professional help yesterday, criminal experts said the Hollywood-style elements of the case did not fit any known offender profiles or behaviour patterns.
Madeleine Pulver, 18, was interviewed by police on Thursday night and yesterday left home to attend several appointments to help her recover after her terrifying ten-hour ordeal with a suspected bomb strapped to her neck.

"I'm all right, thank you," she told the media as she left the family's home at Mosman, on Sydney's north shore with two brothers and parents, Bill and Belinda.

Before the family piled into their car, Mr Pulver said the family had spent the night in a hotel: "It was beautiful, you know, the kids were a little tender. (We) ended up all six mattresses in one room, but it was nice, it was very nice."

The Year 12 student at Wenona in North Sydney, was at home alone about 2.30pm on Wednesday when she was confronted by a man in a black balaclava who used a bicycle chain to clamp a bomb-like device made from an old gun safe around the teenager's neck.

The intruder also pinned a note to Madeleine's chest warning her not to call police or tamper with the suspect explosive device or it would blow up. He signed the note, "Dirk Straun", after the protagonist in James Clavell's 1966 action novel, Tai-Pan.

The note reportedly made no demands for money, but Detective Superintendent Luke Moore, who is heading up the Robbery and Serious Crime Squad's Strike Force Haddon to investigate the matter, said police were treating the incident as a "very serious attempted extortion".

Former Scotland Yard counter-terrorism head Nick O'Brien told The Weekend Australian the Hollywood-inspired fake bomb and literary references led him to think the incident wasn't carried out by professional criminals.

"I'd have to look at the device and see how it was attached to see whether it was a professional job," Professor O'Brien said.

"It's Hollywood, or CSI, or 24. It's very much like it's there to garner publicity rather than a serious attempt. You'd have to say perhaps a serious criminal gang wouldn't have operated like this because it's got this whole bizarre feeling to it."

Professor O'Brien, now a counter-terrorism lecturer with Charles Sturt University at NSW's Goulburn Police Academy, said speculation that Madeleine was involved in the hoax didn't gel as police were treating her as a victim. "I've got to be honest, it's an odd one -- it's very bizarre," he said. "I don't want to say the girl has anything to do with it, because that would be wrong, (but) I've certainly never heard of anything like it before."

Wayne Petherick from Bond University's criminology department said extortion was rare in Australia and the incident was highly unusual. "This is a kind of case that is statistically rare in Australia and there are many highly unusual elements that are incredibly rare," he said. "I know collar bombs are used around the world but for even a fake one to be used in Australia is quite unusual . . . the literary references also seem very Hollywood-esque."

Constable Karen Lowden, from North Sydney police station, was one of the first officers called to the incident on Wednesday and, despite being a general duties officer with standard training, risked her life to comfort Madeleine for the first three hours of her ordeal.

When asked about speculation that Madeleine was somehow involved in the fake bomb threat, Constable Lowden replied: "I can't comment on that at all."

Constable Lowden said her immediate concern on the day was looking after a "girl in trouble".

"She was quite distressed, which is totally understandable in that situation," she said. "But she just held herself with such composure, she was level-headed, she knew what she needed to do to get through that situation."

A longtime friend of Madeleine said yesterday the teenager was very popular at school and, to his knowledge, there had not be in any falling out with other students that would make her the centre of such an attack.

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