A police official has said the driver who mowed down 19 people in Melbourne CBD on Thursday blamed “the mistreatment of Muslims” for “some of his activities,” adding that investigators are continuing to look into his motivations.
Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton told media on Friday that investigators have not yet been able to properly interview the driver Saeed Noori, a 32-year-old man of Afghan descent, who was arrested over the attack, reported Fairfax Media.
It is believed Noori was driving unlicenced after being convicted of driving offences six months ago, reported The Age.
Patton said police have had “preliminary discussions” with Noori, in which he “made utterances… of dreams and voices… attributing some of this [sic] activities to the mistreatment of Muslims.”
But Patton said these “utterances” had not changed the nature of the investigation, “We’ve never ruled anything in or out. We haven’t identified any extremist links to this man. We haven’t identified him linked to any groups, anyone inciting him to any extremist actions or any extremist activities prior to those utterances last night.”
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Patton went on to say that Noori had both mental health issues and a history of drug use. He had missed a mental health appointment on Thursday, Patton said.
The acting chief commissioner said 12 people were still in hospital, with one male victim in his 80s remaining in critical condition. The 4-year-old boy who was injured during the attack is not in critical condition.
The attack took place on Melbourne’s Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River in the central business district of Australia’s second-largest city.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Noori came to Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan through the “normal refugee programs,” not via a people-smuggling operation, reported Fairfax.
Turnbull said Noori had no known links to any political issues or extremist groups.
“I want to reassure all Australians that this is an isolated incident,” Turnbull said.
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In January, six people were killed and more than 20 injured when a man deliberately drove into pedestrians just a few hundred meters away from Thursday’s attack. James Gargasoulas, the man accused of that act, last week pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges, and his lawyer says he has mental health issues.
Melbourne has installed about 140 concrete bollards in the city center to stop vehicle attacks by terrorists similar to those attacks seen recently in Europe and the United States.
Australia’s national terror threat level has been set at “probable” since 2014.
A 20-year-old Australian man of Somalian parents was arrested last month for allegedly planning to “kill as many people as possible” with an assault rifle in Melbourne on New Year’s Eve.
Last year, police foiled a Christmas Day terrorist plot in the city which involved four Islamic terrorists planning to use pipe bombs.
Australian police have charged 74 people in counter-terrorism investigations since 2014, the BBC reports.
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With reporting by Reuters.