A man plowed an SUV through a large crowd of pedestrian Christmas shoppers on one of Melbourne’s busiest streets earlier today, with 19 injuries reported so far. Four people are in hospital in critical condition, including a “preschool-aged girl” who has serious head injuries. Police say it was an intentional vehicle attack.
The incident, which took place at the intersection of Melbourne’s well-known Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street, has been described as a “deliberate act” by police. However, they claim that there are no obvious indications that the vehicle attack was linked to Islamic terrorism.
“He went straight through the red light at pace and it was bang, bang, bang. It was just one after the other,” eyewitness Lachlan Read told reporters at the scene. A second eyewitness added: “We could hear this noise, as we looked left, we saw this white car. It just mowed everybody down. People were flying everywhere. We heard thump, thump.”
Photographs taken by civilians right after the attack appear to show police forcefully arresting two bearded Middle Eastern men. The driver of the SUV, who officers have now identified as Afghan-Australian Saeed Noori, was already known to authorities.
According to Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, the suspect has a history of drug use and mental illness, as well as “historical assault” convictions. A Melbourne local newspaper, The Sun Herald, described Noori as “ice-addicted.”
The second man (right), who was apparently filming the entire scene, has not yet been identified. When police arrested him they found a large gym bag full of knives, indicating the two attackers had chilling intentions beyond just a vehicle attack on Christmas shoppers.
Witnesses told CBC news they saw a white Suzuki SUV speed through traffic lights at the intersection and then plow through a crowd of pedestrians at around 60 miles per hour without braking. The victims, whose bodies were sent flying into the air by the vehicle, are reportedly aged between four and 84 years old.
Fortunately, an off-duty police sergeant doing his Christmas shopping nearby was able to arrive at the scene quickly. He grabbed hold of Noori and pulled him from his SUV after it crashed into a tram stop, preventing him from continuing his rampage. A video recorded by a civilian shows uniformed police cuffing Noori and the other man shortly afterward.
Amateur footage shows police arresting a dazed Saaed Noori at the scene of vehicle attack. Source: Associated Press
The police department in Melbourne denies any links to Islamic terrorism. Officers released the following official statement earlier today:
“We are continuing to investigate an incident where a car has collided with a number of pedestrians in the Melbourne CBD this afternoon. At this time police believe this is a deliberate act, however we do not yet know the motivation and it is only very early in the investigation.”
The crime scene is still active and police have urged people to avoid the area until further notice.