UPDATE: Australian Police Say Don’t Suspect Terrorism After Car Plows Into Pedestrians

Driver has history of assault, drug use and mental health issues
December 21, 2017 Updated: December 21, 2017    

MELBOURNE–A car deliberately plowed into pedestrians injuring 19 people at a crowded intersection in the Australian city of Melbourne on Thursday, but police said they did not believe the attack to be terror-related.

In January, four 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. That too was not a terror attack.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” said acting chief Commissioner Shane Patton, who added that the driver suffered mental health issues.

Four of the injured were in critical condition.

Jim Stoupas, the owner of a donut shop near the intersection, told Reuters the vehicle was traveling up to 100 kph (62 mph) and the intersection was packed, just days before Christmas.

“He just plowed into the pedestrians and what stopped him was, I think, just the amount of pedestrians he’d mowed over,” Stoupas said in a phone interview.

“He came to a rest against the tram sign, and all you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang’ (of the car hitting pedestrians) and screams.”

Police detained two men – the driver and another man who was filming the incident and was found with three knives. They have not been charged. At this stage, police say they do not believe the man filming has any connection with the driver.

The driver, 32, is an Australian citizen of Afghan descent and was driving a relative’s car, reported The Australian.

The attack took place on Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia’s second-biggest city.

“Our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a post on his official Twitter account.

Melbourne has installed about 140 concrete bollards in the city center to stop vehicle attacks by militants similar to recent attacks in Europe and the United States.

Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, has installed concrete barricades in main pedestrian thoroughfares.

Australia has been on a “high” national threat level since 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq and Syria.

Two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney in December 2014.

By Melanie Burton and Paulina Duran