SYDNEY, Dec 21, (Agencies): Australian police said there is no evidence of a terrorist link to a car ramming attack Thursday in central Melbourne that left 19 people injured. Police said the driver was a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent who has a known history of drug use and mental health issues.
The man was known to police for historical minor assault and traffic offenses. “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 late 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. The four listed in critical condition are 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.