Two dead in Melbourne terror attack

Somali immigrant blows up vehicle, embarks on stabbing frenzy during rush hour

A burnt out vehicle is surrounded by police tape on Bourke Street in central Melbourne, Australia, after a terror attack on November 9 2018.
A burnt out vehicle is surrounded by police tape on Bourke Street in central Melbourne, Australia, after a terror attack on November 9 2018.
Image: AAP/James Ross/via REUTERS

A Somali immigrant killed one person and wounded two others in a rush hour stabbing spree in the heart of Melbourne on Friday, with police labelling it a terrorist attack.

The unnamed man had driven a 4x4 truck loaded with gas bottles into the bustling Melbourne city centre, ignited the vehicle in a ball of flames and then attacked passers-by with a knife, police said.

He stabbed three people before being confronted by armed officers who eventually shot him in the chest. One victim died at the scene and the attacker died in hospital.

Counter-terrorism police and intelligence officers are still piecing together how the incident occurred, but said the attacker was known to intelligence services.

Islamic State – which often claims responsibility for such attacks – said via its propaganda arm that the perpetrator was an "Islamic State fighter and carried out the operation".

Witness footage showed police struggling for at least a minute to corral the towering man – who was wearing a dark tunic – as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two officers.

At least two members of the public bravely stepped in to help police. One man was armed with a cafe chair and another – swiftly dubbed an "Aussie hero" on social media – repeatedly tried to ram the suspect with an empty metal shopping cart.

But the attacks continued unabated before one officer opted for lethal force, shooting the suspect in the chest.

"We are now treating this as a terrorism event," said Victoria police chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, who said the suspect was someone who was known to police through family connections.

The unnamed assailant was said to have lived in Melbourne's northwestern suburbs, but had come to Australia from Somalia in or around the 1990s, when the country was ravaged by a civil war.

Witness Chris Newport, 60, described how he had first heard a loud noise and seen a truck on fire rolling across the tram tracks before a second, louder bang. "He was holding a knife and running around the place," he said of the attacker.

"Someone had a shopping trolley and was trying to stop him. Two police turned up really quickly, but there was only a couple of them.

“He started to go at them and there was a loud bang – they shot him," he said.

The police chief refused to give more details due to the ongoing investigation, but the authorities will face inevitable questions about how someone known to the intelligence services had nonetheless managed to carry out an attack.

The counter-terrorism command has taken a lead role in the investigation and police have set up a three-block-wide exclusion zone.

Officers said they "are not looking for anyone further at this early stage" and there was no immediate evidence of an ongoing threat related to the attack.

Forensic investigators combed through the scene where the dead victim's body lay covered in a white plastic sheet.

Friday's attack is a double blow for the city as it coincides with the ongoing murder trial of James Gargasoulas, 28, accused of ploughing his car into crowds in the same area in 2017, killing six people.