Man arrested in connection with murder of Israeli student in Melbourne

20-year-old nabbed by local police in area near where attack on Aiia Maasarwe took place Wednesday

A 20-year-old man sits in a police car, January 18, 2019, after he is arrested for questioning over the death of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne, Australia (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)
A 20-year-old man sits in a police car, January 18, 2019, after he is arrested for questioning over the death of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne, Australia (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

A Melbourne man was arrested in connection with the slaying of a university student in the city, Australian authorities said Friday.

It was not immediately clear if the man was a suspect in the murder of Aiia Maasarwe, 21, who was attacked shortly after midnight on Wednesday while speaking on the phone to her sister, in a murder case that has shaken Australia and drawn international attention.

“Homicide Squad detectives have arrested a man as part of the ongoing investigation into the death of Aiia Maasarwe,” Sgt. Julie-Anne Newman said in a statement released by Victoria state police. “The 20-year-old was arrested in Greensborough by local police working in partnership with homicide detectives about 11.20am.”

“Police would like to thank the public for their assistance with the investigation.”

Aiia Maasarwe pictured in a Melbourne cafe, October 1, 2018. (Instagram)

Police on Thursday had pleaded for the public’s help in catching the killer, who is thought to have assaulted Maasarwe as she got off a train in the Bundoora area of the city, near La Trobe University, where she had been studying as an exchange student.

The Greensborough area neighbors Bundoora on the north end of Melbourne.

Authorities have released few details about the assault out of respect for the family. Police assume the attack was random and opportunistic.

Police have been “saturating” the area since the body of Maasarwe was found near the train stop Wednesday morning to both hunt for the killer and calm the public.

Two women stand at a floral tribute, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the scene where the body of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe was found earlier in the week in Melbourne, Australia.(Ellen Smith/AAP Image via AP)

“We understand this distresses the local community, and we understand our role in this, which is that we need to be in that area and we need to provide some comfort and some safety,” Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Tony Ryan told national broadcaster ABC on Friday.

The murder has sent a shock wave through Melbourne, normally thought of as one of the world’s most liveable and safe cities.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday that he was shocked by the killing.

“It is just so shocking. I mean, I’m speechless,” he said, according to Australian media.

On Twitter, he called it “an incredibly shocking, despicable and tragic attack.”

Homicide Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said Thursday that police “are desperately in need” of the public’s help, asking for information about a black hat with “1986” stamped on it and a light gray t-shirt found at the scene of the murder.

“Somebody in the community knows who did this,” Stamper said. “Somebody has come home … maybe with blood on them, missing items of clothing. Somebody knows about this and we need help.”

Australian police on January 17, 2019, released these images of Aiia Maasarwe, taken on the night she was killed (Courtesy)

Vigils were planned later Friday for Maasarwe and to protest violence against women, including a silent march on the steps of the Victoria state parliament.

Maasarwe was originally from Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel, a predominantly Arab city.

The victim’s uncle, Abed Katane, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that Maasarwe had been studying at Shanghai University and had spent recent months in Melbourne on a study-abroad program.

Maasarwe’s father was in Melbourne to coordinate bringing the body back to Israel for burial.

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