By Tui Benjamin
Rush hour commuters and Christmas shoppers were mowed down by a speeding 4×4 at one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections.
Eyewitnesses have told how commuters fled for their lives after the white Suzuki four-wheel drive ploughed into pedestrians in Melbourne, Australia, at 4.41pm today (THURS) – injuring 19 people.
Many of those caught in the carnage had been let out of work early for Christmas on what was the last working day before the festive break for many Australian workers, and were heading home.
Police later said the 32-year-old man arrested – an Australian citizen of Afghani descent – had a history of mental illness and drug abuse but did not believe the attack was terrorism-related.
The carnage comes less than a year after six people were killed and 30 injured when a car ploughed through the nearby Bourke Street Mall.
Bitcoin company manager Bruno Timpano witnessed the immediate aftermath of the incident, which occurred close to his office, and was also in the city for the Bourke Street tragedy.
He said: “My staff are distraught, this is the second attack in less than a year. I had just sent everyone home early for Christmas when it happened, the girls were crying and shaking.
“Within five minutes of them leaving they said something had happened because they could hear screaming.
“When I got outside I saw four bodies on the ground not moving. They had members of the public around them doing first aid.
It is just s***. Melbourne is supposed to be the safest place on earth. There is no question that everyone was terrorised.
“I heard the car was going at least 60 or 70kmph. Someone said they didn’t see any brake lights.
“Everyone was in the holiday mood, everyone had left work early, there were thousands and thousands of people doing their Christmas shopping.
“If they had wanted to pick a good time to do this they probably picked the best time.
“I saw the car, it looked clean and had Victoria number plates.”
Cameron Von Borstel, who moved to Melbourne from Sydney six months ago, was stood just 20 metres up the road waiting for a friend when he saw the car career into pedestrians at the intersection.
He said: “I heard a screech and a bang and I turned around thinking a car had hit a tram.
“As I turned and moved down towards the intersection I saw about 100 people running away screaming and crying. That was horrifying.
“Then I ran the 10 metres to the intersection and I saw people lying on the ground not moving at all.
“I honestly thought it was just an accident – but later when police confirmed it was deliberate that scared me.
“It was one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne just before 5pm.
“So when I heard only 19 people were injured I thought thank God, it could have been a lot worse.”
Victoria Police confirmed the 32-year-old man was arrested by an off-duty police officer after allegedly accelerating up tram tracks towards the busy shopping thoroughfare and smashing into a crowd of people at an intersection in the ‘deliberate’ incident.
Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said19 people remain in hospital – including the driver, the off-duty policeman and a four-year-old child, who is in a stable condition – but said they did not believe the ‘deliberate’ incident was connected to terrorism or extremism.
A 24-year-old man seen filming the incident at the scene was found to be in possession of three knives and was also arrested but officers said it was unlikely he was directly involved.
Neither of the two men have yet been charged and Victoria Police said they did not believe there was a connection between them.
Acting Chief Commissioner Patton told a press conference today: “The driver was a person known to Victoria Police for historical assault matters – a minor assault in 2010.
“He has a history of drug use and mental health issues and is currently receiving treatment for a mental illness.
“We don’t at this time have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism, and believe this is a singular incident.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews added: “This is a horrific act, an evil act, an act of cowardice perpetrated against innocent bystanders. We are all wounded by this terrible act.”