Australian police believe a daylight kidnapping and stabbing that took place in the streets of Sydney earlier this year is linked to a COVID-19 vaccination certificate scam.
CCTV and mobile phone footage released by New South Wales Police this week shows a 24-year-old man being attacked by five assailants in a suburban street of Merrylands, in Western Sydney, on the afternoon of September 24. The man can be seen being marched to a nearby Toyota Hiace van and thrown into the back, while another car reverses into a trailer in a frantic attempt to escape after being struck by one of the assailants holding an expandable baton.
“Kidnapping is happening,” says one onlooker in the mobile phone video. “They just kidnapped the guy,” says another.
Police allege the man was subsequently held hostage at a vacant unit in the neighbouring suburb of Auburn, and was further assaulted for “up to three hours and stabbed in the shoulder.” He was found by a member of the public at nearby Birrong later that night and was taken to Liverpool Hospital for treatment before being released.
“We believe this incident is a targeted attack and may relate to a fake vaccination certificate scam and related debts,” Detective Superintendent Andrew Koutsoufis said. “We believe this particular scam is isolated to this person involved in this incident.
Koutsoufis further suggested that the individuals had shown up for “a pre-arranged meeting ... with those involved in the incident.”
The market for fake COVID vaccination certificates has proliferated in Australia over the past few months, as unvaccinated citizens are prohibited from attending venues and using public services. VICE has seen multiple vendors on the dark web advertising counterfeit certificates for sale, as well as a number of users who were openly enquiring about buying certificates after expressing their aversion to getting the vaccine.
One prospective buyer told VICE: “I'm fully vaxxed, but not my pregnant wife. She's six months pregnant and she wants to wait until after the birth before she takes the vaccine. We are worried it could affect the birth.”
The Australian government's health department says that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe if you are pregnant and breastfeeding, and AstraZeneca can be considered as a third option if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. It also notes that pregnant people have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The specific circumstances and events that led to the daylight kidnapping are not clear. Police are appealing for public information, and investigations are ongoing.
“This is an extremely violent and brazen attack that occurred on a suburban Sydney street on a Saturday afternoon,” said Koutsoufis. “This kind of behaviour has no place in our community and these men must be brought to account.”
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