20-year-old Man Arrested Over Murder of Israeli Exchange Student in Melbourne

Australian police say suspect was arrested after extensive investigation ■ Aya Masarwe's family say she had been on the phone with her sister when the attack happened

Two women stand at a floral tribute at the scene where the body of Israeli student Aya Masarwe was found earlier in the week in Melbourne, Australia, January 18, 2019.
Ellen Smith/AAP Image via AP

A 20-year-old man has been arrested as part of investigations into the murder of an Israeli student in Melbourne, police said Friday.

The body of exchange student Aya Masarwe, aged 21, was found in bushes in a Melbourne suburb early Wednesday. Police also found a cap and a shirt at the scene of the crime. 

Police said in a statement that the man was arrested after an extensive investigation including assistance from the public. 

Aya Masarwe.

Masarwe's family said she had been on her mobile phone speaking to her sister in Israel when the attack happened, with her sister hearing the phone crash to the ground.

Her father Said arrived in Melbourne on Thursday to bring her body home. He cried Friday when saw an impromptu floral memorial arranged by members of the public at the site where her body was found behind a hedge not far from the tram stop.

"This is the last place my daughter — was here," the father told reporters. "I had many dreams to be with her."

Police have not detailed the attack on Maasarwe, which they assume was random and opportunistic.

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Relatives described Masarwe as a beautiful and talented woman. She had studied Chinese at Shanghai University and was studying English at La Trobe University.

"Instead of coming home with a diploma, she is coming home in a coffin," her uncle Abed Katane told Australia's national broadcaster ABC from the family home in the central Israeli city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye.

The uncle told Haaretz on Wedensday that the family is in touch with the Foreign Ministry and with the Israeli Embassy in Australia in order to coordinate the body's return.

"It's not the type of thing you expect," Katane added. "She was an excellent student, full of life. She wasn't in a very dangerous country at all, and yet we are still receiving such a painful message."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday described the death as the "most despicable of crimes". He revealed that she had been raped before her body was discarded.

"Every woman in Australia — every person in Australia — should be able to travel home in safety. I can't begin to think of what I could say to her family," he added.

Silent vigils have been held for the student in Melbourne as the city reeled in shock at yet another murder of a young woman commuting home.

Aspiring comedian Eurydice Dixon, 22, was killed in similar circumstances last year, while Masa Vukotic, 17, and Jill Meagher, 29, were murdered on the city's streets in 2015 and 2012.