WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
- Driver of vehicle is 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent with a history of drug use and mental health problems
- Second man, aged 24, was arrested in close proximity to the scene
- White SUV car driven at pedestrians in central Melbourne, Australia, near train station, in ‘deliberate act’, police said
- 19 injured, four of whom are in a critical condition, police said
- Witnesses describe horror scenes, including bodies flying and the rush to help those struck down
- Police say there is no evidence to suggest a link with terrorism.
The driver arrested after a car ploughed into pedestrians on a busy street in Melbourne, Australia, was a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent with a history of drug use and mental health problems, police said.
A second man, aged 24, who was arrested in close proximity to the scene was discovered to have a bag containing knives after he was seen filming the incident, police added. He is not known to the police.
Police said the incident was a “deliberate act” but that there was no evidence to suggest a link with terrorism at this stage.
Police said the driver, who was known to police, was arrested at the scene by an off duty officer.
Police said the driver resisted arrested and that both he and the off duty police officer are in hospital.
Acting Commissioner Shane Patton at Victoria Police told a press conference on Thursday: “At this stage we are satisfied that he was driving the car without anyone present at all.
“He has been taken to hospital as a result of his injuries, as has the police officer.”
Patton added: “We don’t at this time have any evidence or any intelligence to indicate that there is a connection with terrorism.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that 19 people had been taken to hospital, four of whom are in a critical condition.
One of the victims is a pre-school child who suffered a head injury. The child is not in a critical condition.
Andrews called the attack an “act of evil and an act of cowardice”.
Pictures on social media showed people injured and receiving help from emergency services as witnesses described horrific scenes including “people flying everywhere” as they were hit.
A witness told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the vehicle was travelling at about 50 or 60mph.
“There was no breaking or any slowing down at all,” said Jim Stoupas, who said he was standing outside his donut shop when the car crashed into the people, one after another.
“All you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang’,” he said.
Speaking to media, police described the incident as a “deliberate act”, adding that the motivation of those involved was not yet known.
Victoria Police Commander Russell Barrett said: “At this stage we believe it is a deliberate act. However, we do not know the motivation and it is still early stages of the investigation.
“Police and emergency services will remain on scene for the foreseeable future.”
He added: “The crime scene will be in place for a considerable period of time and we are urging people who can avoid the area to avoid the area.
“Police will continue to have a strong presence in the Melbourne CBD until tonight.”
Photos showed a white four wheel drive with damage to its front. A person claiming to be a witness called radio station 3AW, saying there were “five to seven people laying on the ground” following the crash.
Another 3AW caller claimed the car “just mowed everybody down, people were flying everywhere”, HuffPost Australia reported.
One witness said of the driver: “The only thing slowing him down was him hitting pedestrians.”
The incident began at 4.30pm local time (5.30am GMT).
“A crime scene has been established and all vehicular and pedestrian traffic are advised to avoid the area,” police added.
Police appealed for witnesses to go to a police station.
All vehicle and pedestrian traffic has been advised to avoid the area on the city’s busy Flinders Street.
Major streets in Australian cities have been packed with holiday shoppers this week.
Flinders Street is a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia’s second-biggest city.
Police said there will be hundreds more police on the streets, but assured the public there is “no increased threat” to upcoming events.
Police did not give any possible motive for the incident, which had chilling echoes of a similar case when four people were killed and more than 20 injured in the same city in January.
Investigators said the January incident was not terror-related, although it led to Melbourne and other cities ramping up security measures in pedestrian areas in major cities.