An Australian man of Afghan descent drove his vehicle into Christmas shoppers in the Australian city of Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people. Although the incident appears to be an intentional attack, Australian authorities have made it clear that they are not treating it as a terror related incident, citing the suspect’s history of mental illness and violent criminal record.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” said the acting chief commissioner of Victoria State, Shane Patton.
Four of the 19 people injured in the attack are listed in critical condition, including one pre-school aged child that suffered a serious head injury. Another potential suspect, a 24-year-old man that was recording the incident and was found to be carrying “a bag of knives” was taken into custody under suspicion of being an accomplice, though authorities have since indicated that the man was likely not involved.
The suspect, as well as the off-duty police officer that took him into custody, are counted among the 19 injured tally.
“This is horrific. It’s evil,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. “We are not defined by these sorts of incidents.”
Despite the indications that the attack was not terror-related, many can’t help but draw parallels between this attack and similar ones perpetrated by “lone wolf” terrorists claiming affiliation to groups like the Islamic State that have happened all around the world. Notably, a Tunisian refugee named Anis Amri carried out a similar attack in Berlin, Germany last year; driving a rented box truck into Christmas shoppers on December 19th. Nine people were killed in that incident, with as many as 50 more injured.
Unsurprisingly in today’s world, many of the shoppers in Melbourne also assumed they were witnessing a terrorist attack as the man with a history of drug abuse and mental illness drove his white SUV through a crowd and into a nearby telephone pole.
“I heard a bit of a bang behind me, even though I had my headphones in with a bit of audio,” Paul Calahane told ABC News. “I leaned forward, thinking it was a blast, then I saw people running. I saw people just scattered on the road. … There were people running, screaming, thinking it was a bomb.”
Almost immediately, Calahane reported, the suspect was being pulled from his vehicle and placed under arrest.
“Within a minute there was about 40, 50 people on the scene,” he said. “They were really pushing people back from the scene.”
Another witness, the owner of a bakery across the street from the incident, recounted the disturbing sound of the pedestrians being hit by the SUV.
“He came to rest just next to the tram stop — maybe the side of the tram stop stopped him — but the only thing that seemed to be slowing him down was the amount of pedestrians he had hit,” the man said.
“All you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang.'”
This is the second such attack to take place in Melbourne this year. In January, another man with a history of mental illness drove into a crowd only blocks away from where Thursday’s attack occurred. He was charged with six counts of murder following the incident, and authorities have made it clear that they do not believe that attack was terrorism inspired either.
Feature image courtesy of Twitter