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'Broke my heart': Muslim woman reflects on horrific cafe attack while heavily pregnant

Rana Elasmar and her husband Azzam (R), and their son Zain (L). Source: AAP/Rana Elasmar

Mother of four Rana Elasmar says she's determined to turn her own horrific experiences of being attacked at a Sydney Cafe in 2019, into one of empowerment for other Muslims wearing the Hijab.

Elasmar tells SBS Arabic24 that she still wrestles with the fact that she could have lost her baby during a November 2019 attack that rocked Sydney's Muslim community. 

She was 38 weeks pregnant when Stipe “Steven” Lozina viciously assaulted her as she sat with her friends at a cafe in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta. 

In October, Lozina was sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison for the unprovoked attack.

screenshot from CCTV footage shows the attack on a pregnant woman in western Sydney
A screenshot from CCTV footage shows the moments before the attack.

The court was told that Lozina hit Elasmar about 14 times in a “very dynamic and swift outburst of violence” while she “cowered” on the floor. 

More than 16 months after the attack, the incident is still fresh in her mind. 

“The man who we didn’t know approached us asking for money. I felt in me that he had other motives," she says.

“I felt in my heart that something bad was going to happen. He looked at me and started saying that you Muslims attacked my mother and he started beating me.” 

The attack, which was captured by the cafe's security camera shows Lozina jumping over the table to strike Elasmar who tried to protect her unborn baby by placing her hands on her stomach. 

"I began to wonder where the people are and why no one stopped him? I started praying to God in my heart,” she says. 

"Why was I attacked, and not my friends? 

There were others around us, but he came for us.

More than six months after the sentence was handed down, she believes the punishment was “too lenient” and fears it will not be a deterrent to others.  

She’s calling on the courts to hand down harsher sentences for such crimes. 

"The recovery period will last longer than the sentence,” she said, affirming that it has taken her a considerable period of time to speak about the incident.  

“I spent weeks unable to concentrate and struggled with headaches, it was very difficult.” 

Elasmar eventually gave birth to her son Zain in late 2019, and she's determined to turn her terrible experience into an empowering one for the sake of her children, who “have lost a sense of safety” since the incident.

“My children were greatly affected, as they saw media coverage of the incident and the scenes of beating, their school friends started asking them about what happened, and they were so scared that when I went out to visit the doctor, whether I would come home alive. 

“Seeing my kids scared broke my heart and forced me to be strong."

Rana Elasmar
Rana Elasmar her husband, with their son Zain.
Rana Elasmar

She calls on all Muslim woman to be proud of wearing the Hijab and hopes that her children can find strength in her stance of viewing Australia as a safe place to express the rituals of their faith. 

She expresses her gratitude for the sympathy shown to her by the public following the attack and she calls on the Australian community to "get to know Muslims personally" and not to form an incorrect view through media stereotypes.

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