A driver who plowed into pedestrians on a busy street in Melbourne this week was charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and one count of endangering life, Australian police said Saturday.
Acting chief commissioner of Victoria Police Shane Patton told reporters that while the crash was considered to be deliberate, there was no evidence of a link to terrorism.
Eighteen people were injured, including at least one young child, when the car hit pedestrians outside Melbourne’s iconic Flinders Street station just after 4.40 p.m. local time.
- Police said the 32-year-old driver was the sole occupant of the white Suzuki 4WD at the time of the crash.
- He’s an Australian citizen of Afghan descent who was known to police but only for minor offenses.
- A second man arrested at the scene is not believed to be connected to the incident, police said.
- There’s been no change in the state’s threat levels.
The streets outside Flinders Street Station were busy with commuters and holiday shoppers when the SUV rammed into pedestrians.
Witnesses told CNN affiliate Seven Network the car was barreling down the road at about 60 miles per hour (100 kph).
The man was taken into custody by an off-duty police officer after resisting arrest, Patton said. Both the man and the police officer were injured in the scuffle.
A 24-year-old man was also arrested at the scene, after he was seen filming the incident on his phone. Police found three knives in his bag. The man is being interviewed by police but Patton said at this stage, “we don’t yet have any relationship established between the 24-year-old man and the driver… in fact, there may be no relationship between them.”
The driver was known to Victorian Police due to “historical assault matters” and a history of drug use. “We understand he is on a mental health plan and receiving treatment for a mental illness,” Patton said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called it a “terrible, evil cowardly act,” but said there was no need to change the state’s threat level. He urged Victorians to go about their business as usual and enjoy the holiday season.
Flinders Street is one of Melbourne’s busiest pedestrian roads, running between a major train station and the bustling city center. This week, it’s crowded with commuters and shoppers making last-minute holiday purchases.
Police said several of those injured were in critical condition, and a pre-school age child who was hospitalized with a head injury is in serious condition, Ambulance Victoria said.
Among them was a pre-school age child who was taken to hospital with a head injury, and is in a serious condition, Ambulance Victoria said.
‘It just plowed into the crowds’
Jim Stoupas, owner of the Walkers Donut shop on Elizabeth Street, told CNN he saw an SUV going about 60 miles an hour (100 kph) down Flinders Street.
“It just plowed into the crowds,” he said. “We heard this noise and we looked up then we just heard bang, bang, bang and people flying everywhere. We had a lot of customers in our shop and they were traumatized.”
Another witness, Cameron Von Borstel, said he assumed a car had crashed into a tram when he heard a loud bang from the direction of Flinders Street.
“I went down the street to have a look. I saw about two or three people lying still in the street. People were helping,” he told CNN.
Concrete bollards were erected along the side of some Melbourne city roads by the government in June, after a number of vehicle-related terror attacks around the world.
The streets and landmarks around Melbourne’s Flinders Street station have been the target of multiple attempted terrorist plots, all foiled by police within the past year.
Less than a month ago, a man was charged with terrorism offenses over a plan to shoot “as many people as he could” on New Year’s Eve at a large public space beside the station.
In December last year, Australian police foiled a plot to blow up improvised explosive devices around Melbourne’s city center on Christmas Day, including Flinders Street Station. Australian authorities described it as “one of the most substantial terrorist plots disrupted” in several years.
It was described as “one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement his thoughts and prayers were with the victims of the “shocking incident,” and pledged federal authorities would work with Victoria’s security agencies to investigate.
Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said there were “shocking scenes” coming out of Melbourne. “Credit to first responders who are doing us proud once again,” he said. “Thinking of everyone caught up in this atrocity.”
The incident comes almost one year after six people were killed when a car plowed into pedestrians along Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall in January, just a few streets north of Flinders Street station. Police said that incident was not terror-related.
Plans for a public memorial to mark that event were announced this week by Victorian Premier Andrews.
CNN’s Yazhou Sun contributed to this report.