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'No evidence to suggest terrorism' after car is driven into crowd in Melbourne

19 people have been injured, some critically, and two men have been arrested.

1513840350491 ABC News ABC News

Updated 11.10am 

POLICE HAVE SAID there is no evidence to suggest an incident in which a man ploughed a car into pedestrians in Melbourne was terrorism-related.

At least 19 people were injured in the incident, which police believe was a deliberate act. Of those injured, 15 people are in a stable condition and four are in a critical condition.

An off-duty police officer who intervened and arrested the driver is among those who were seriously injured. A four-year-old boy was also injured, but not critically.

Victoria state police arrested the driver of the car in the immediate aftermath of the incident, which happened in downtown Melbourne at a busy intersection at around 4.45pm local time (5.45am Irish time). The incident happened between Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street.

Speaking to reporters at a media conference, Victoria’s acting Police Commissioner Shane Patton said the driver of the car was a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan descent.

At this time we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism … Obviously this is quite a fluid situation, with the investigation unfolding.

Patton said the man resisted arrest and was placed in custody after “somewhat of a fight”. The man had “minor interactions” with police in the past – for driving offences and a “minor assault” in 2010.

Patton said the man has a history of drug use and is understood to be receiving treatment for a mental illness.

police Victoria Police Victoria's acting Police Commissioner Shane Patton Victoria Police

The man drove the car down tram tracks before accelerating, hitting “a large number of pedestrians”, Patton said. The car he used is registered to a family member.

Patton said hundreds more police officers will be deployed around the area in the coming days, but said there is no increased threat level.

He said the incident will be “life-changing and devastating” for those affected, stating:  “Those that were present will be changed forever.”

Second man arrested

A second man, 24, who was filming the incident was also arrested by police. Patton said this man was in possession of a bag with three knives in it. However, police don’t believe he was working with the driver.

At the same conference, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called the incident “an horrific act, an act of evil and an act of cowardice”, noting that many people were doing Christmas shopping at the time.

“We are all caught up in this, we are all deeply sad and deeply wounded,” Andrews said.

He said the quick response by emergency services, and the fact strangers assisted victims, was “a source of pride”. He added that those affected by the incident will have the option to receive free counselling and support.

Video won’t play? Click here.

Speaking to reporters at an earlier press conference, Commander Russell Barrett said: “Police arrived at the scene within minutes and arrested two men.

At this stage we believe it is a deliberate act. However, we do not know the motivation as it is still at the early stages of the investigation.

Barrett said police and emergency services will remain at the scene “for the foreseeable future”, adding that people should avoid the area.

“We understand this has been a very traumatic event and there will be witnesses, victims and family members affected,” he said, asking witnesses to come forward.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the incident as “shocking”.

In a tweet, police appealed to members of the public to upload any images they might have of the incident to a cloud address to help assist with their investigation.

A witness told Melbourne radio station 3AW: “We could hear this noise, as we looked left, we saw this white car, it just mowed everybody down. People are flying everywhere. We heard thump, thump. People are running everywhere.”

Another witness told ABC Radio Melbourne he saw an “SUV 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. I’ve really never seen anything like this before and I haven’t stopped shaking,” he said.

The incident comes almost a year after a car mowed down pedestrians in Melbourne’s busiest mall in January, killing six people. The driver, whose case is still being heard in court, had been pursued by police prior to the rampage after he had allegedly stabbed his brother.

- Contains reporting from © AFP 2017

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