More Than a Dozen Injured as Driver Deliberately Plows Into Melbourne Crowd
Editor’s note: Police said the incident was likely not terrorism. This is very obviously a complete denial of reality and a pathetically ham-handed attempt at narrative control. Mundilfury.
A man rammed a car into pedestrians and Christmas shoppers in a bustling area of Australia’s second-largest city on Thursday, injuring at least 18 other people in an act police said was deliberate.
Police in Melbourne said they arrested the 32-year-old male driver of a white four-wheel-drive Suzuki at the scene, along with another man. Four people were critically wounded, said Premier of Victoria state Daniel Andrews, and another 15 including the driver are in stable condition. Police said the incident was likely not terrorism
The unnamed driver was alone in the car and is Australian of Afghan descent, with some history of assault, drug use and mental illness, Shane Patton, acting chief commissioner of the Victoria state police, said at an evening media briefing.
“He is under arrest for what we allege is a deliberate act,” Mr. Patton said, adding that the incident is being treated as an isolated event. “At this time we do not have any evidence for any intelligence to indicate there is a connection with terrorism. However, we continue to support this investigation without counterterrorism command to ensure that there isn’t that connection and that there is no ongoing threat.”
The second man, 24, was in possession of a bag containing three knives and remains in custody after being seen filming the events on his phone at the scene. But Mr. Patton said it was unlikely he had any relation to the driver.
Witnesses said the vehicle accelerated after running a red light and plowing into pedestrians at high speed adjacent to Flinders Street Station, one of Melbourne’s busiest transportation hubs.
Mr. Patton said the Suzuki pulled on to tram tracks running parallel to the train station, drove through an intersection and into the pedestrians. The driver was captured by an off-duty police officer soon after his car crashed into a post next to a tram stop in the center of the street.
Both the officer and the driver—who Mr. Patton said resisted arrest—were taken to a city hospital for treatment.
“To describe this as a lone wolf incident is not probably not apt,” Mr. Patton said. “This is an horrific incident where a person drove directly at pedestrians. It is a crime and we will be fully exploring that. One of the key aspects we are exploring is in respect to mental health backgrounds and drug use in respect of this individual.”
Commander Russell Barrett of Victoria Police told reporters earlier in the day that while police believed the act was deliberate, a motivation was unclear.
A witness who gave his name as Lachlan told Australian media that he saw a man he believed to be the driver as he was detained by police, dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt and appearing nearly unconscious.
“The police arrived and dragged him from the car. There was a cop with a big gun, an [assault rifle] pointed at him,” Lachlan said.
The site will remain an active crime scene, state police said. Victoria Police said it would provide a strong presence into the night in central Melbourne.
The attack occurred near the location of a similar events in January, when a driver plowed through a pedestrian mall, killing four people and injuring 20 others. That act wasn’t terrorism-related.
The January incident, coming after terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.K. in which attackers used vehicles to mow down pedestrians, prompted Australia’s government and police countrywide to strengthen defenses in an effort to guard against vehicle-based attacks. Concrete or metal poles were erected at popular locations and more armed police have been patrolling the nation’s streets.
Earlier this month, police in Sydney began patrolling with military-style rifles for the first time. Other deterrent measures have included fences and additional installations of CCTV cameras, as well as improved screening procedures across the country.
Heavily armed officers had parts of central Melbourne locked down after Thursday’s incident, which occurred at the start of rush hour at about 4:30 p.m. local time, during the busy Christmas shopping period.
An ambulance-service spokesman said at least 13 people had been transported to hospitals.
“The intersection was full of pedestrians and he just plowed through,” one bystander, who gave his name only as Jim, told Australian television. “The only thing that slowed him down was him hitting pedestrians. There was no braking, there was no slowing down.”
Another witness, liquor-store attendant Elton Hindoli, said the incident occurred near a tram stop and that one man dragged from the car by police appeared to be unconscious.
“He hit the people, then crashed into the tram area in the middle of the road,” he told Melbourne radio.
“What occurred on Flinders Street this afternoon was an act of evil and an act of cowardice,” Premier Andrews said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Twitter: “As our federal & state police & security agencies work together to secure the scene and investigate this shocking incident our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them.”