Driver arrested over 'deliberate' Melbourne SUV attack is 'Afghan-born Australian, 32, with mental health and drugs problems'

·Freelance Writer

The driver arrested after a car was driven into pedestrians in Melbourne was a 32-year-old Australian of Afghan descent with a history of drug use and mental health problems, and there is no evidence to suggest a link with terrorism at this stage, police said.

Up to 19 people – including a preschool-aged child – are believed to have been injured, four critically, as a result of the white Suzuki SUV driving into crowds outside Flinders Street station just after 4.30pm (5.30am GMT).

Victoria Police earlier said the incident was a “deliberate act” but believe it was not a terror incident.

The driver of the car was detained by an off-duty police officer, who was later taken to hospital with injuries not believed to be critical.

<em>Police say there was no evidence to suggest the incident was an act of terrorism (Reuters)</em>
Police say there was no evidence to suggest the incident was an act of terrorism (Reuters)

Victoria Police chief Shane Patton told a press conference the driver had resisted arrest and there had been “somewhat of a fight between them”.

He added: “We have reviewed the footage and are satisfied that he was driving the car without anyone else present.

“He has be taken to hospital as a result of the incident, as has the police officer.

“He is a person known to Victoria Police. He has historical assault matters an has a history of drug use as well as mental health issues.

<em>Australian politicians have paid tribute to the victims of the ‘atrocity’ (Reuters)</em>
Australian politicians have paid tribute to the victims of the ‘atrocity’ (Reuters)

“We understand that was on a mental health plan and receiving treatment.”

He added: “We do not at this time have any intelligence to indicate that there is a connection to terrorism.”

The second man held in connection with the incident was seen filming it on a mobile phone “and also had a bag that had some knives in it”, Mr Patton said, but it appears he may not be connected.

He added: “We don’t yet have any relationship established between the 24-year-old man who was taking a video, who was arrested at the scene, and the driver. In fact there may be no relationship between them.

<em>Eyewitness described bodies ‘flying everywhere’ (PA)</em>
Eyewitness described bodies ‘flying everywhere’ (PA)

“But, obviously, at a significant scene like this he was taken into custody because of the circumstances so we can explore it. It may well be that person is exonerated from any involvement in this in the end, and that’s probable at this stage.”

He was not known to police, Mr Patton added.

Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state, said four people were in a critical condition in hospital and 15 were in a stable condition.

A pre-school aged child was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital for treatment for a non-life-threatening injury.

<em>Emergency medical workers rushed to help victims struck by the vehicle (Australian Broadcast Corp/AP)</em>
Emergency medical workers rushed to help victims struck by the vehicle (Australian Broadcast Corp/AP)
<em>Police said 19 people have been injured, four critically (Reuters)</em>
Police said 19 people have been injured, four critically (Reuters)

He told the press conference the city would not be “defined by these sorts of incidents”.

He added: “I am confident that we will go about our business and we will celebrate Christmas, we will be at the Boxing Day Test, Carols By Candlelight and we will spend what should be a joyous time with people that we love.

“But we will all spare a thought for those that have been touched and, indeed, ever changed by the evil and cowardly scenes in Flinders Street today.”

Witnesses described “people flying everywhere” while images from the scene showed a number of people receiving medical attention.

<em>The car crashed into rush hour crowds outside Flinders Street station (PA)</em>
The car crashed into rush hour crowds outside Flinders Street station (PA)

Police said they had “saturated” the area with officers as paramedics transported over a dozen people to city hospitals, while two people were being assessed by paramedics at the scene.

Social media images appeared to show a young man in jeans and a T-shirt being arrested by three police officers on the steps of the station, although it was unclear if he had been in the car.

A woman called Sue told 3AW radio: “As it (the car) approached this intersection… it just mowed everybody down, people were flying everywhere.”

Eyewitness Lachlan Read told the Herald Sun the whole incident lasted about 15 seconds.

<em>Police said they could find no connection between a second man arrested at the scene and the driver (PA)</em>
Police said they could find no connection between a second man arrested at the scene and the driver (PA)

He said: “It was bang, bang, bang. It was just one after the other.

“The last bang the car stopped. There were bodies on the ground and people running up to them – it was mayhem.

“It is definitely something you don’t expect to see on Flinders Street.”

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Australia will now discuss with the Papua New Guinean government the building of a lasting memorial and ways to preserve the site.

It was the first week of school summer holidays in Victoria, and the area was busy with Christmas shoppers.

Elton Hindoli, who works at an off licence by the scene of the incident in Elizabeth St, told the Herald Sun that a man who was pulled from the car appeared to be unconscious.

<em>One of those the car hit was a young child, who suffered a head injury (Reuters)</em>
One of those the car hit was a young child, who suffered a head injury (Reuters)
<em>Eyewitnesses said they saw bodies flying everywhere during the 15-second incident (PA)</em>
Eyewitnesses said they saw bodies flying everywhere during the 15-second incident (PA)

He said: “A girl came into the shop and she was very upset. She said a guy in a big car had hit about six people.

“It wasn’t clear if the driver was hitting them on purpose or not. He hit the people then crashed into the tram area in the middle of the road.”

A man who was working in a nearby shop and was at the scene before emergency services arrived told the Australian Associated Press: “There was no screaming, just people lying there.”

Victoria Police said officers had “saturated” the city’s central business district following an incident where a car had collided with a number of pedestrians on Flinders Street.

Australian politicians have condemned the “horrendous” and “shocking” scenes in Melbourne after a car crashed into pedestrians in what police have described as a “deliberate act”.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted: “As our federal and state police and security agencies work together to secure the scene and investigate this shocking incident, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the emergency and health workers who are treating them.”

Daniel Andrews, premier of the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, described it as a “horrible incident”, adding: “Stay safe. Check on your loved ones. And thank you to our brave emergency services.”

Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition in the Australian Parliament, referred to the crash as an “atrocity”, tweeting: “Shocking scenes in Melbourne this afternoon. Credit to first responders who are doing us proud once again. Thinking of everyone caught up in this atrocity.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered her support, saying: “My thoughts are with Australia and the people of Melbourne – such a shocking incident this afternoon. Thinking of all the victims and their families.”

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