A car yesterday plowed into a crowd in Australia’s second-largest city 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 Police said they had arrested two men, including the driver of a car that “collided with a number of pedestrians” at a busy intersection in downtown Melbourne.
“We believe based on what we have seen that it is a deliberate act. The motivations are unknown,” Victoria Police Commander Russell Barrett told reporters.
Barrett would not comment on whether the incident was terror-related, only saying that “it is the early days of the investigation and that is unknown.”
Paramedics had taken a number of people to hospitals, some of them with serious injuries, ambulance officials said.
Sky News Australia reported that they included a preschool child with a grave head injury.
Photographs from the scene showed one man wearing a long-sleeved top being dragged from a white Suzuki Grand Vitara, while a bearded second man wearing a red checkered 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 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 Australian Broadcasting Corp Radio Melbourne that he saw a sport utility vehicle “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.”
Canberra has become increasingly worried about homegrown extremism and officials have said that 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 attacks in crowded public places.
Suggested steps include deterrent options such as 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.
However, the Age newspaper said the warning sirens were not activated for yesterday’s incident, and police did not appear to have enacted counterterrorism lockdown strategies either.
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