MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Nearly half the 19 people injured when a driver with no known extremist links ploughed into pedestrians in the southern city of Melbourne were foreign nationals, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday.
Police allege that the 32-year-old Australian man, a refugee from Afghanistan, had a history of mental illness and drove a car into Christmas shoppers on one of the busiest roads in Australia’s second-largest city on Thursday.
The incident was a chilling reminder of attacks using vehicles in cities around the world. Four people were killed in a similar incident in Melbourne in January.
Turnbull and police said the driver had no known ties to extremist organisations, although they also said he had spoken of the perceived mistreatment of Muslims after his arrest.
Police have yet to interview, charge or identify the man.
Turnbull said nine of the victims were foreign nationals. He did not specify their nationalities but Australian media reported they included people from China, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea and Venezuela.
“This is a shocking incident to occur just on the eve of Christmas but we will not be cowed by it,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
Four people were killed and more than 20 injured in January when a man deliberately drove into pedestrians just a few hundred metres away from Thursday’s attack. That was also not designated as a terror attack.
Australian police patrol the area where a driver on Thursday deliberately ploughed into pedestrians in central Melbourne, Australia, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sonali Paul
Police had cordoned off the area immediately after the incident but roads in central Melbourne were open and trams were operating as usual on Friday morning.
Reuters witnesses reported a heavy police presence around exits from nearby Flinders Street train station, with trauma support and Red Cross workers in the area. Department store staff said foot traffic was down from the day before.
“It’s definitely quieter,” said a saleswoman at a beauty counter in the David Jones department store, who declined to give her name.
Australian police and paramedics are seen near the place where they arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near the Flinders Street train station, in central Melbourne, Australia, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Ascui
“More people are coming in from the back entrance. I think they’re trying to avoid Flinders Street Station,” she said.
Workers at Walker’s Doughnuts, which overlooks the site of the incident, said business was normal.