A man drove an SUV into a crowd of Christmas shoppers in central Melbourne Thursday, injuring 18 people and creating scenes of horror in the center of Australia’s second-largest city. Police say they believe the attack was a deliberate act but have found no evidence linking the incident to terrorism.
Here’s what we know:
- The ramming occurred shortly after 4:30 p.m. when a white SUV drove at high speed into pedestrians crossing the street outside Flinders Street Station, a busy shopping district in central Melbourne.
- Witnesses reported seeing victims thrown into the air by the vehicle, which was traveling at a speed of about 60 miles per hour. “It was mayhem, there were people flying everywhere,” Rose Stoupas, the owner of a local donut business, told the Guardian. Her husband Jim Stoupas described the carnage to Australia’s ABC: “The intersection was full of pedestrians and he plowed through pedestrians,” he said. “All you could hear was, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.”
- The driver, who was the sole occupant of the vehicle, was arrested by an off-duty police officer who arrived at the scene within 15 seconds, acting police commissioner Shane Patton told reporters. He described the 32-year-old driver as an Australian citizen of Afghan descent, with a history of drug use and mental health issues, who was receiving treatment for mental illness and was known to police for previous assaults.
- There was no evidence of any link to terrorism, police say, and the state’s terror threat level has not been changed. “We believe based on what we have seen that it is a deliberate act. The motivations are unknown,” said Victoria Police Commander Russell Barrett.
- Police also arrested a 24-year-old man who was filming the incident. When searched, the man was found to be carrying a bag of knives. Police believe the man had no link to the incident.
- Eighteen victims have been hospitalized for their injuries, said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrew. Four of them are critical and the rest, including a four-year-old boy, are stable. The driver was also admitted to hospital for injuries sustained during his arrest.
- The incident comes nearly a year after a similar ramming attack in the city where a driver deliberately mowed down pedestrians in a busy shopping district. Six people were killed, but police say it was not terror-related.