Australian police said they are treating a deadly knife attack in Melbourne as an act of terror, adding that the suspect was originally from Somalia and was known to intelligence authorities.
“We are now treating this as a terrorism event,” Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said on Friday, November 9. He said the suspect is “someone that is known to us” and had been traveling in a 4×4 vehicle packed with gas bottles.
Ashton said the attacker – who was shot by police and later died in custody – was known by the authorities because of family connections and had been in Australia for decades.
The counter-terrorism command has taken a lead role in the investigation.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency, saying: “The perpetrator of the operation … in Melbourne… was an Islamic State fighter and carried out the operation… to target nationals of the Coalition” fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Emergency services are asking people to avoid the Bourke St Mall.
— ABC Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) November 9, 2018
Police said the suspect had a history of drug, theft and driving offenses, the Guardian reported.
One person was killed and two others injured in the rush hour stabbing rampage in downtown Melbourne, before the attacker was shot and captured by police. He later died at the hospital, Ashton said.
Witnesses said the man began attacking pedestrians near a pickup truck apparently belonging to the attacker which had exploded into flames.
Australian police said one person died at the scene and another two others were being treated for their injuries.
WARNING: disturbing images. Police have shot a man after a car explosion in Melbourne's Bourke st. Witnesses say he was wielding a knife- others have been injured. More to come @10NewsFirstPER pic.twitter.com/ehMJOEIwKl
— Dougal Wallace???? (@DougalWallace) November 9, 2018
Witness footage showed police struggling for at least a minute to corral a large man wearing a dark tunic as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two officers.
Police officers who apprehended the suspect are being treated for cuts and scrapes and are not thought to be in a serious condition.
Ashton said the authorities do not see any ongoing threat related to the attack.
At least two members of the public bravely tried to help police. One man was armed with a cafe chair while another – swiftly dubbed an “Aussie hero” on social media – repeatedly tried to ram the suspect with an empty metal shopping cart.
— Ryan M (@doc_ryan) November 9, 2018
But as the attacks continued unabated, eventually one officer opted for lethal force, shooting the suspect in the chest.
Police warned people to avoid the area and created a three-block-wide exclusion zone as the bomb squad was dispatched to secure the area and examine the vehicle after the fire was extinguished.
Officers said they “are not looking for anyone further at this early stage.”
“The exact circumstances are yet to be determined … The area has been cordoned off,” police said, as they called for “anyone with information or who witnessed the incident is asked to go to Melbourne West Police Station to make a statement.”
Forensic investigators combed through the scene late Friday, where the dead victim’s body lay covered in a white plastic sheet.
Melbourne is Australia’s second largest city, a cosmopolitan metropolis of almost five million people famed for its cafes, bars, restaurants and high standard of living.
Friday’s attack is a double blow for the city as it coincides with an ongoing the murder trial of 28-year-old James Gargasoulas, who ploughed his car into crowds in the same area in 2017, killing six people.
This story was updated on November 9 at 1155 GMT to add the Islamic State claim.
With reporting from AFP