Police say the driver of a car accused of intentionally ploughing into a group of pedestrians in Melbourne, Australia, on Dec. 21, has a history of assault, drug use, and mental health problems, the ABC reported.
After driving through the crowd, the white 4WD vehicle crashed into a nearby tram stop, sending 19 people to hospital and triggering peak-hour chaos near Melbourne’s Flinders Street train station.
— James Oaten (@james_oaten) December 21, 2017
According to police, the driver was a 32-year-old Australian of Afghan descent with a criminal history.
Of the 19 hospitalized victims, four remain in critical condition, it is reported.
Victoria Police told the ABC the injured include:
A four-year-old boy
A 25-year-old man
A 40-year-old man
A 43-year-old man
A 45-year-old man
An 83-year-old man
A 25-year-old woman
A 25-year old woman
A 30-year-old woman
A 35-year-old woman
A 47-year-old woman
A 58-year-old woman
There are also three men and two women whose ages are unknown, in addition to an off-duty police officer.
The 32-year-old man arrested at the scene also remains in hospital under police guard.
Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton told ABC reporters the suspect was arrested by an off-duty police officer.
“It would be right to single him out for special praise for the way in which he instinctively came to the aid of others,” he said.
— James Oaten (@james_oaten) December 21, 2017
Patton also reportedly said there was no evidence of a connection with terrorism.
“We don’t at this time have any evidence or any intelligence to indicate there’s a connection with terrorism,” he told the ABC.
A second man arrested on site was seen filming the incident. Police discovered he had a bag with multiple knives inside.
Police believe the second man has no connection with the incident, but is said to be “assisting police with their inquiries,” the ABC reported.
Victoria Police Commander Russell Barrett told ABC reporters all evidence points to an intentional act.
“We believe based on what we have seen that it is a deliberate act. The motivations are unknown,” Barrett said.
Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia, called it a “shocking incident.”
Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, a state in Australia, also condemned the attack.
“What happened in Flinders Street today was an act of evil.
“This was an attack on innocent bystanders–people finishing their Christmas shopping, heading home from work, unwinding for the year.
— Richard Willingham (@rwillingham) December 21, 2017
“Tonight, Victorians stand strong, and we stand together,” he stated.
‘Vehicle Was Traveling Up To 62 mph’
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.”
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.
A witness described the incident to ABC Radio Melbourne.
“I saw a car, an SUV coming at high speed and really just heard the collision with people with bags and what must be shopping trolleys—and I hope not prams.”
“I’ve really never seen anything like this before and I haven’t stopped shaking.”
Prime Minister Turnbull issued a statement on his official Twitter account.
“Our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them,” Turnbull stated.
As our federal & state police & security agencies work together to secure the scene and investigate this shocking incident our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them. https://t.co/JkUM9TuIQe
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) December 21, 2017
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.
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.
Reuters contributed to this report.