More than a dozen people were injured, with several in critical condition, after a driver plowed through a busy intersection on Flinders Street in central Melbourne, Australia on Dec 21. Here’s what to know:
At approximately 4:45pm local time, the driver of a white Suzuki SUV plowed through pedestrians on Flinders Street, one of the busiest sections of Melbourne’s central commercial district. The vehicle “showed no signs of slowing” as it hit multiple pedestrians between Elizabeth and Swanston streets, Australia’s The Age newspaper reported, but it was not moving at high speed, eyewitnesses said.
Police said they believe the action to have been “deliberate,” but declined to assign the driver’s motivation to terrorism. Tallies of the wounded varied in media reports, with 19 people taken to the hospital, according to police, including the driver and a police officer. Fifteen of the people injured are now stable, police said, with four still in critical condition.
A witness told radio station 3AW that she heard screams before she saw “people flying everywhere”.
“We saw this white car, it just mowed everybody down,” another local business-owner told The Age. “People are flying everywhere. We heard thump, thump. People are running everywhere.” According to eyewitnesses, there were 40-60 people crossing the road when the SUV entered the intersection, many of them .
Parts of Melbourne’s public transportation system were suspended in the afternoon, and Victoria Police have asked local residents to avoid a perimeter around the incident until Dec. 22. Police warned that law enforcement would maintain a presence in central Melbourne “for a considerable period,” but city-wide terror alert alarms were not utilized, and by 8:00pm emergency vehicles had begun to vacate the area. A planned Christmas light show was also cancelled.
“What occurred on Flinders Street this afternoon was an act of evil, and an act of chaos…perpetrated against innocent bystanders,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said at a press conference with Victoria Police Thursday evening. He also addressed the incident earlier on Twitter, calling the attack “a horrible incident.”
“Stay safe. Check on your loved ones. And thank you to our brave emergency services,” Andrews wrote.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed the incident in a brief statement. “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,” Turnbull wrote on Twitter. Australia’s opposition leader Bill Shorten also commented, saying “Shocking scenes in Melbourne this afternoon. Credit to first responders who are doing us proud once again. Thinking of everyone caught up in this atrocity.”
Who are the suspects?
Police arrested two suspects at the scene, including the driver of the car, identified as a 34-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent who was previously known to law enforcement for minor assault and traffic offenses, police said. Authorities also said the man has a history of mental health issues and drug use, the Associated Press reports. An off-duty police officer who made the arrest sustained hand and shoulder injuries and was also transported to the hospital, as was the suspect. A second suspect, 24, who was apprehended filming the incident and found to be carrying a bag of knives, was also arrested. While it is unclear if there was any relationship between the suspects, police “don’t believe that to be the case,” according to AP.
A police officer at the scene described the incident as terrorism-related, but Victoria Police refused to comment on the motivation of the perpetrators. “We believe based on what we’ve seen that this was a deliberate act. The motivation is unknown. It’s still early days in the investigation,” Commander Russel Berret told media at the scene. Acting Chief Commissioner of Victoria State Shane Patton also said there is no evidence or intelligence that suggests a connection to terrorism, Reuters reports.
Victoria Police have asked members of the public with video or photos of the incident to upload them to assist with the investigation, and have directed eyewitnesses to report to Melbourne West Police Station on Spencer Street, where welfare services are available.
How many people were injured?
Nineteen people were injured in the incident, according to police. Ambulance Victoria said it transported 13 people to Melbourne city hospitals, including three to the Alfred Hospital and three to Royal Melbourne Hospital. A pre-school-aged boy was taken to Royal Children’s Hospital with a serious head injury but is now in stable condition, local media reported.
Has it happened before?
This is the second such attack in Melbourne this year. On January 20, a driver crashed through lunch-time crowds along Bourke Street in central Melbourne, killing six people, including a 10-year-old girl and a three-month-old baby. At least 30 people were also injured in the incident.
Following that incident, Melbourne installed concrete blocks — known as bollards — at busy locations, including Flinders Street, in the hope of preventing or minimizing damage from vehicle attacks, the BBC reported. The blocks were also installed at various locations in Sydney.