Melbourne car attack suspect charged with 18 counts of attempted murder

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A white SUV (C) sits in the middle of the road as police and emergency personnel work at the scene of where a car ran over pedestrians in Flinders Street in Melbourne on December 21, 2017. The car ploughed into a crowd in Australia's second-largest city on December 21 in what police said was a 'deliberate act' that left more than a dozen people injured, some of them seriously. / AFP PHOTO / Mal Fairclough

A driver who plowed into pedestrians on a busy street in Melbourne this week was charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and one count of endangering life, Australian police said Saturday.

The crash injured 18 people, including one young child, outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street station during rush hour Thursday evening.

While the crash was deliberate, there was no evidence of a terror link, said Shane Patton, chief commissioner of Victoria Police.

The suspect, a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent, was known to police for minor offenses, and had a history of drug use and mental health issues, authorities said.

He appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Saturday.

What happened

The streets outside Flinders Street Station were busy with commuters and holiday shoppers when the SUV rammed into pedestrians.

Witnesses told CNN affiliate Seven Network the car was barreling down the road at about 60 miles per hour (100 kph).

“We heard this noise and we looked up, then we just heard, ‘bang, bang, bang,’ and people flying everywhere,” said Jim Stoupas, who owns a doughnut shop nearby.

“We had a lot of customers in our shop and they were traumatized.”

The man was taken into custody by an off-duty police officer after resisting arrest, Patton said. Both the man and the police officer were injured in the scuffle.

Another man detained

Police detained a 24-year-old man who was filming the incident on his phone, and found three knives in his bag.

“We don’t yet have any relationship established between the 24-year-old man and the driver. In fact, there may be no relationship between them,” Patton said.

Flinders Street is one of Melbourne’s busiest pedestrian roads, running between a major train station and the bustling city center. This week, it’s crowded with commuters and shoppers making last-minute holiday purchases.

Police said several of those injured were in critical condition, and a pre-school age child who was hospitalized with a head injury is in serious condition, Ambulance Victoria said.

Concrete barriers

Australian authorities set up concrete bollards along some Melbourne city roads in June after a series of vehicle-related terror attacks worldwide.

The streets and landmarks around Melbourne’s Flinders Street station have been the target of multiple attempted terrorist plots, all foiled by police within the past year.

Less than a month ago, a man was charged with terrorism offenses over a plan to shoot “as many people as he could” on New Year’s Eve at a large public space beside the station.

In December last year, Australian police foiled a plot to blow up improvised explosive devices around Melbourne’s city center on Christmas Day, including Flinders Street Station. Australian authorities described it as “one of the most substantial terrorist plots disrupted” in several years.