MELBOURNE – Two men have been arrested in Melbourne, Australia after the SUV in which they were travelling rammed into pedestrians on a busy central street Thursday, leaving 14 people injured in what police believe was a deliberate act.
Police said the driver of the vehicle (a white Suzuki SUV) and a second man were in custody after the incident, which occurred on Flinders Street in the city’s central business district just after 4.45pm when the area was busy with Christmas shoppers.
The driver was a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent known to Police, and was arrested on the scene by an off-duty police officer. Police admitted the suspect had “historical assault matters” and has a history of drug use as well as mental health issues.
Commander Russell Barrett told media that while the motive of the incident was not immediately clear, “at this stage we believe it was a deliberate act”.
Barrett confirmed 14 people had been injured in the attack. Several were taken to hospitals, and two were in critical condition, including a pre-school aged boy with head injuries.
Witnesses described horrific scenes from the incident, which started when the SUV ran a red light outside Flinders Street train station and sped up to hit pedestrians, striking more than a dozen people before crashing into a traffic barrier by a cable car stop.
Witnesses said when the car crashed it was rushed by bystanders who started pulling the two men out before police arrived a few minutes later.
Police said they deployed officers across the area and the site would be closed-off as a crime scene for some time.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has described the incident as being “an horrific act, an evil act, an act of cowardice perpetrated against innocent bystanders.”
“We are all caught up in this. We are all deeply sad and deeply wounded by this terrible, terrible act,” he said in a press conference tonight.
Premier Andrews went on to applaud the strangers and emergency services who worked hand-in-hand to ensure the injured were helped immediately.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent a tweet calling the incident “shocking” and said his thoughts and prayers were with the victims and those treating them.
It is the second time this year that Melbourne, regularly ranked one of the world’s most livable cities, has been traumatized by a car attack.
In January, six people were killed and more than 30 were injured when a car was driven up a footpath in Bourke Street, near Thursday’s incident. Police arrested the driver, who was known to police for a history of illicit drug use, family violence and mental health problems. Police said the case was not terrorism-related.