SYDNEY (AP) - The driver of an SUV that rammed into a crowd in central Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people, is an Australian citizen of Afghan descent with a history of drug use and mental illness but no known links to terrorism, police said.
Police said the 32-year-old driver, who was not identified, was arrested and had been known to police for minor assault and traffic offenses. The motive for the attack was not immediately known.
“We don’t at this time have any evidence or any intelligence to indicate there’s a connection with terrorism,” said Victoria state police acting commissioner Shane Patton.
The streets outside the city’s iconic Flinders Street railway station were crowded with Christmas shoppers Thursday afternoon when a white Suzuki SUV ran a red light and sped up to slam into pedestrians crossing the road before crashing into a traffic barrier.
While police had earlier said 14 people had been injured, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed that 19 people had been taken to hospitals. Four were listed in critical condition and were believed to include a preschool-aged child, Australian media reported.
Andrews described the incident as “an act of evil and an act of cowardice, perpetrated against innocent bystanders.”
Witnesses described a horrific scene.
“I was crossing Flinders Street on the way to the train station. I heard an engine rev behind me and heard a thump,” one man identified only as David said on ABC TV. He said he turned around saw “people literally getting thrown into the air as it hit them.”
Bystanders rushed to drag the driver out of the vehicle before police arrived to arrest the man. Early reports said there were two men in the car, but Patton confirmed the suspect was driving alone.
Confusion had arisen when a second man was seen being apprehended alongside the driver. Patton said he was a 24-year-old man seen filming the incident on his mobile phone and found carrying a bag with three knives.