Melbourne is reeling after a car plowed into pedestrians in the busy center of the Australian city, injuring at least 19 people, including a toddler, in what police are calling a deliberate attack.
At around 4:45pm local time Thursday (Dec. 21), a white Suzuki SUV pushed through the busy Flinders Street intersection, slamming into pedestrians and people waiting at a tram stop. Four of those injured are reported to be in a critical condition.
An off-duty police officer apprehended the driver at the scene, and was taken to hospital with minor injuries he sustained to his hand and shoulder during the arrest. The driver was also taken to a nearby hospital.
Who was the driver?
The driver has been described as a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent, who was known by police for “historical assault matters.” While the driver’s actions appear to have been deliberate, Victoria Police are not treating his motivation as terror-related “at this stage.”
“We understand that he is on a mental-health plan and receiving treatment for a mental illness. We’re working to clarify that,” Shane Patton, Acting Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, added. The driver is also known to have a history of drug use.
Was a second man arrested?
A second man was arrested and taken into custody after being seen filming the incident on his mobile phone. Police found multiple knives in his bag, but have now suggested that he wasn’t involved in the incident. He is reported to be assisting police.
What happens next?
Police say officers will remain in the area “well into the evening and tomorrow morning” but urged people to avoid the immediate area.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described it as a “shocking incident” in a tweet, adding that his thoughts are with victims and the emergency services. Meanwhile, opposition leader Bill Shorten took the opportunity praise first responders for “doing us proud once again.”
This isn’t the first time Australia’s second-largest city has seen an incident of this kind. In January, six people were killed when 27-year-old Dimitrious Gargasoulas struck pedestrians on nearby Bourke Street. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in court to 39 charges, including six counts of murder.