Roger Singaravelu wasn’t a novice when it came to hosting foreign-exchange students.
So when Momena Shoma, 24, a female Bangladeshi student from a well-to-do family, needed to switch host homes a week after arriving in Australia in early February, Singaravelu opened his once again.
Nothing stood out that could have warned the 56-year-old Melbourne Hospital worker of any potential problem. The father of a five-year-old daughter felt comfortable enough to take an afternoon nap on the couch the day after Shoma settled in.
Then everything changed.
Only now is Singaravelu, still traumatized, speaking out.
He awakened to “a sharp pain” in his neck, with Shoma leaning over him with a kitchen knife and shouting, “Allahu akbar” as she stabbed him, his daughter screaming as she witnessed the attack.
“I reactively grabbed on to the knife and fought (her) off, my daughter was screaming nearby, and I told her to run and hide,” he told the Melbourne Herald-Sun.
“There was blood everywhere. I ran outside with my daughter and got the attention of neighbors, who assisted me.”
Whatever screening the Australian Homestay Network had done on Shoma and other exchange students, it had not picked up on Shoma’s ISIS sympathies.
Four years before the attack, Shoma had been romantically involved with Najibullah Ansari, a now-missing ISIS extremist sought by authorities in Bangladesh. The pair, both from upper middle-class professional families, broke off their relationship because of parental disapproval.
Shoma’s suitor allegedly belonged to New Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, or Neo-JMB, an ISIS-inspired radical group made up of youth from wealthy families. Neo-JMB was responsible for a July 2016 attack at a Dhaka cafe favored by Westerners that left 29 dead. Following the massacre, authorities named Ansari, son of a naval officer, as a Neo-JMB militant wanted for questioning.
While Shoma has not been implicated in the cafe attack, she attended the same school at the same time as some of the terrorists involved and became more religious during that period. Ansari disappeared in 2015 after announcing he was “going to Iraq to join ISIS.”
Only days after Shoma’s arrest in the Melbourne attack, her sister, Asmaul Husna, 22, attacked and stabbed a policeman at her Dhaka home while shouting “Allahu akbar” when questioned about Shoma. Authorities say Husna admitted to be involved with the radical Neo-JMB.
Australian authorities have charged Shoma with one count of engaging in a terrorist attack. Her next court appearance is set for May 2.
Singaravelu says he is still “traumatized” by the incident and so is his daughter.
“She still sees blood on the wall and asks me to clean it off, although there is nothing there.”