But on Friday morning, around 9 a.m., he settled into his duties as one of the city’s newest bus drivers, welcoming his passengers inside.
Then one of those passengers pulled out a deadly device, what police described as an “incendiary item,” and threw it at Alisher.
Flames erupted and smoke filled the cabin, trapping the young man and his passengers inside. A taxi driver, realizing what was happening, kicked open the back door of the bus.
The passengers escaped; Alisher did not.
Queensland police said the bus driver was pronounced dead at the scene, prompting a homicide investigation that has devastated tightknit communities across two countries and forced authorities and family to ask incredulously: Why him?
So far, police have not identified a motive for the attack. They have arrested and charged 48-year-old Anthony Mark Edward O’Donohue with murder, arson and 11 counts of attempted murder, reported ABC. They ruled out links to terrorism, and at a news conference Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said authorities had not found any evidence that the assault was racially motivated.
But Alisher’s family isn’t convinced.
“We suspect that it may be [racially motivated],” Alisher’s brother, Amit Alisher, told ABC, while still accepting there was no evidence to classify it as a hate crime. “We would like to see due process, we have faith in the Australian system.”
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was concerned enough to telephone Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about the killing. A series of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne in 2009 has helped fuel suspicion about anti-Indian sentiment in Australia.
A statement from Modi’s office said the telephone conversation conveyed a “sense of concern being felt in India over the recent brutal killing of Mr Manmeet Alisher, a person of Indian origin, in Australia,” reported the Hindustan Times.
Amit Alisher described his brother as sociable and helpful, the kind of man who, when he learned someone from his Indian village was traveling to Australia, would meet them at the airport and lead a welcome tour.
At a news conference Saturday, family friend Winnerjit Singh Goldy said the community was working to transport Alisher’s body back to India, where the man’s ailing parents still live. His mother has heart problems. The family has decided not to tell the parents that Alisher is dead until his body is home.
“They are too old — my father is 70 — they won’t be able to take it,” Amit Alisher told the Brisbane Times. “I have told them he is in hospital after getting hurt in a road accident and that’s why I am going to see him in Brisbane.”
A vigil was held Saturday night.
“He had a lot of dreams,” Goldy said during the Saturday news conference. “Whenever I spoke to him, he said: ‘Brother, I am going to be a leader in Australia.’”
Goldy called the attack “shocking” and “unbelievable.”
“On the Internet, we read that this senseless, needless [attack] is not racism, this is not a terrorist attack,” Goldy told ABC. “But the issue is . . . why target Manmeet only? Right now there are a lot of questions in our mind.”
The man accused in Alisher’s killing, Anthony O’Donohue, appeared in court Saturday morning. His lawyer told ABC the man was “numb” and that he was concerned for his client’s mental health.
“I don’t think he’s feeling anything at this point,” the lawyer, Adam Magill, told ABC. “He’s trying to come to terms with what happened himself.”
On Monday morning in Australia, authorities announced that an independent investigator had been called in to examine O’Donohue’s history in the mental health care system where he had been previously treated, reported the Brisbane Times.
“Given the very serious nature of this incident I believe it is appropriate that there be an independent external investigation into the treatment provided within the health system to the accused,” Health Minister Cameron Dick said in a statement, reported the Times.
Goldy described Alisher as a “pillar” to his family in India and said that in Australia, they’d lost “the future of the Punjabi community.”
“We need justice only,” he told reporters Saturday. “Justice, justice, justice.”
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