13 injured as car deliberately hits crowd in Melbourne

Australian police stand near a crashed vehicle after they arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near the Flinders Street train station in central Melbourne, Australia December 21, 2017
Picture: Reuters/Luis Ascui

A car ploughed into a crowd in Australia’s second-largest city on Thursday in what police said was a “deliberate act” that left more than a dozen people injured, some of them seriously.

Witnesses said people were thrown through the air after being hit by the vehicle, which did not appear to be trying to stop as it “mowed everybody down”.

Victoria state police said they had arrested the driver of the car after it “collided with a number of pedestrians” in downtown Melbourne at a busy intersection just after 4.30pm local time (0530 GMT).

A second man was also arrested.

“We believe based on what we have seen that it is a deliberate act. The motivations are unknown,” Victoria Police’s Commander Russell Barrett told reporters in Melbourne.

Paramedics were “treating and transporting to hospital” 13 people, with some seriously hurt, ambulance officials said.

Sky News Australia reported that a pre-school child with a head injury was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

Citing witnesses, Sky said a white Suzuki Grand Vitara with two men inside drove into the crowd, with no signs the vehicle made an effort to slow down.

Local media showed photos of one man wearing a long-sleeve top being dragged from a car, while a bearded second man wearing a red checked shirt was seen handcuffed and sitting on the ground.

In a tweet, police appealed to members of the public to upload any images they might have of the incident to a cloud address to help assist with their investigation.

A witness, named only as Sue, told Melbourne radio station 3AW that she heard screams and saw “people flying everywhere”.

“We could hear this noise, as we looked left, we saw this white car, it just mowed everybody down,” she said.

“People are flying everywhere. We heard thump, thump. People are running everywhere.”

Another witness, John, told ABC Radio Melbourne that he saw a “SUV coming at high speed”.

“(I) really just heard the collision with people with bags and what must be shopping trolleys – and I hope not prams,” he said.

“I’ve really never seen anything like this before and I haven’t stopped shaking.”

The intersection is one of Melbourne’s busiest, a local shop owner told national broadcaster ABC, and is particularly crowded at this time of the year ahead of the Christmas break, with school holidays under way.

Measures against vehicle attacks

The incident came months after a car mowed down pedestrians in Melbourne’s busiest mall in January, killing six people.

The driver, whose case is still being heard in court, had been pursued by police prior to the rampage after he had allegedly stabbed his brother.

The attack, which was not terror-related, shocked Australians and took place near Melbourne Park where top tennis stars were playing in 2017’s opening Grand Slam.

Canberra has become increasingly worried about homegrown extremism and officials say they have prevented 13 terror attacks on home soil in the past few years.

The Australian government in August unveiled a strategy aimed at preventing vehicle terror attacks carried out in crowded public places.

Suggested steps include deterrent options like fencing and closed circuit cameras, and delaying approaches such as trees and bollards to slow down vehicles.

Melbourne has also been installing a public siren system and more security cameras to warn people of a possible terrorist attack or other serious threats.

But the Age newspaper said the warning sirens had not been activated for Thursday’s incident, and police did not appear to enacted counter-terrorism lock-down strategies either.

While there was not yet any clear motive for Thursday’s incident, there have been several cases of vehicles being used to deliberately maim and kill.

Truck attack

The most deadly such case was in the southern French city of Nice on July 14, 2016, when 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck down a beachside promenade, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds more.

Almost exactly one year ago, on December 12, another Tunisian national, 24-year-old Anis Amri, hijacked a truck and slammed it into crowds of people at a Christmas market in Berlin.

A total of 12 people died in that attack with dozens injured. Amri was shot dead four days later in Milan, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

More recently, eight people were killed in New York when a pick-up truck was driven into cyclists and pedestrians, in what was described as the first deadly “act of terror” in the city since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Other deadly attacks using vehicles have taken place this year in London, Stockholm and Barcelona.

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