Aus­tralian po­lice kill man af­ter he starts fire, stabs three in al­leged ter­ror at­tack

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - TOM WESTBROOK SYD­NEY SON­ALI PAUL MEL­BOURNE

A So­mali-born man set fire to a pickup truck laden with gas cylin­ders in the cen­tre of the Aus­tralian city of Mel­bourne on Fri­day and stabbed three peo­ple, killing one, be­fore he was shot by po­lice in a ram­page they called an act of ter­ror­ism.

Islamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, with­out pro­vid­ing any ev­i­dence.

The util­ity truck car­ry­ing bar­be­cue gas cylin­ders burned on busy Bourke Street just be­fore the evening rush hour as the driver stabbed by­standers and at­tacked po­lice.

The cylin­ders did not ex­plode and the fire was put out in 10 min­utes, by which point the at­tack was over.

“We are still try­ing to piece to­gether whether the ve­hi­cle was lit, then he got out the car or whether he got out of the car and then the ve­hi­cle took flame,” Vic­to­ria Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton told re­porters.

Video posted to Twit­ter and broad­cast on tele­vi­sion showed the man swing­ing a knife at two po­lice of­fi­cers, while his truck burned in the back­ground.

One of the of­fi­cers shot the man and he col­lapsed to the ground clutch­ing his chest, the video showed. Other footage showed two stab­bing vic­tims ly­ing on the ground nearby.

The at­tacker, who po­lice said was 31, died in hospi­tal, as did one of the vic­tims, Mr. Ash­ton said. “From what we know of that in­di­vid­ual, we are treat­ing this as a ter­ror­ism in­ci­dent,” he said of the at­tacker.

Asked about what the at­tacker had been plan­ning, the com­mis- sioner re­ferred to the gas cylin­ders in the car and said: “You could make cer­tain as­sump­tions from that.”

Vic­to­ria Po­lice de­clined to comment when con­tacted about Islamic State’s claim. The mil­i­tant group also claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for a deadly siege in the city in 2017 when a So­mali man was killed by po­lice af­ter taking a woman hostage.

Mr. Ash­ton said there was no longer a threat to the pub­lic, but that se­cu­rity would be boosted at horse races and Re­mem­brance Day memo­ri­als over the week­end. Sun­day marks 100 years since the ar­mistice was signed that marked the end of the First World War.

Po­lice did not iden­tify the at­tacker but Mr. Ash­ton said the man was known to them and in­tel­li­gence au­thor­i­ties be­cause of fam­ily as­so­ci­a­tions.

All of the vic­tims were men, he said. He de­clined to re­lease their names be­cause po­lice were still in the process of con­tact­ing fam­i­lies.

Po­lice later said the two wounded men were aged 26 and 58.

Asked if the at­tacker had re­cently trav­eled to Syria he said: “That is some­thing we might be able to talk more about to­mor­row.”

A staunch U.S. ally, Aus­tralia has been on alert for such vi­o­lence af­ter a Syd­ney café siege in 2014, and its in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have stepped up scru­tiny, though there was no warn­ing of the lat­est at­tack.

Au­thor­i­ties say Aus­tralia’s vig­i­lance has helped to foil at least a dozen plots, in­clud­ing a plan to at­tack down­town Mel­bourne at Christ­mas in 2016.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said in a state­ment re­leased on Twit­ter: “Aus­tralia will never be in­tim­i­dated by th­ese ap­palling at­tacks.”

Video posted to so­cial me­dia showed chaotic scenes as by­standers scat­tered while the at­tacker fought with po­lice and his vic­tims lay bleed­ing on the foot­path.

One man charged at the tall at­tacker, who was wear­ing a long black shirt, with a shop­ping trol­ley just be­fore po­lice drew their weapons.

A wit­ness, Markel Vil­lasin, told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion ra­dio: “By­standers were yelling out ‘just shoot him, just shoot him.’ ” They did.

Vic­to­ria Premier Daniel An­drews said the at­tack was “an evil, ter­ri­fy­ing thing that’s hap­pened in our city.”

Warn­ing text mes­sages were sent af­ter the at­tack and po­lice sealed off the down­town area, usu­ally busy with shop­pers and din­ers on a Fri­day evening. Some cor­dons were lifted later, though the im­me­di­ate crime scene would be sealed un­til Satur­day, po­lice said.

Mem­o­ries re­main fresh of a fa­tal but not ter­ror-re­lated at­tack on the same street last year, in which a man drove his car at pedes­tri­ans at high speed, killing six peo­ple and wound­ing about 30.

That prompted the city to in­stall hun­dreds of se­cu­rity bol­lards. The driver is on trial.

In December, 2014, two hostages were killed dur­ing a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gun­man, in­spired by Islamic State mil­i­tants, in a café in Syd­ney.


Po­lice in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, cor­don off the area where of­fi­cers shot a man who set fire to a truck, then be­gan stab­bing pedes­tri­ans, killing one and wound­ing two oth­ers, on Fri­day.

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