By Erin Pearson, John Silvester & Simone Fox Koob
One person is dead and two others injured after being stabbed by a man who set his car alight on Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD.
The suspect was shot by police after he attacked them and has been taken to hospital in a critical condition.
Two victims are in hospital, including one with a head injury.
The centre of Melbourne’s CBD is in lockdown after horrific scenes unfolded about 4.30pm, sending Friday afternoon shoppers and commuters running for safety.
The attacks comes on the second day of the highly-publicised murder trial of James Gargasoulas, who allegedly drove through Bourke Street Mall on January 20 last year, killing six people and injuring 27 others. Police will investigate a possible copy-cat motive.
Counter-terrorism police have been notified, and they are investigating, although there is no immediate indication the incident is terror related.
Heavily-armed police from the Special Operations Group are on standby, while a threat assessment is being carried out to see if there are any further concerns.
Initial intelligence suggests that the man was a lone offender.
Superintendent David Clayton said police received reports that a vehicle was on fire in Bourke Street about 4.30pm.
“Nearby police quickly responded to the incident. As they got out of the car they were confronted by a male brandishing a knife and threatening them. At the same time passers-by were calling out that members of the public had been stabbed,” Superintendent Clayton said.
“Police shot the male in the chest and he is now in a critical condition under [police] guard in hospital.
“Three people have been stabbed. Unfortunately one is deceased at the scene. Two other victims are currently in hospital. The bomb response unit have cordoned off the area.”
The Bourke Street Mall, including Myer and David Jones stores, have been evacuated.
The man stopped his dual-cab ute on Bourke Street, not far from the Target store near the intersection of Swanston Street, and set it alight.
He then started attacking people with a knife, stabbing at least three people.
Transit officers were the first to respond, with one officer using a tree to protect himself from the attacker.
The attacker was then shot in the chest by police, before he was arrested and taken to hospital.
Just after 5.20pm, a body was seen lying under a white sheet on Bourke Street, near the entrance to Russell Place. There were large spots of what appeared to be blood near the body, as were a pair of men’s black lace-up shoes.
About 6pm, police confirmed a victim had died.
Police have told all members of the public to avoid the CBD. Trams along Swanston, Bourke and Elizabeth streets have also been stopped.
Melbourne’s anti-terror sirens and loudspeakers are being used for the first time, sounding out across Bourke Street.
The message over the loudspeakers says: “This is Victoria Police, please evacuate the area. This is Victoria Police, please evacuate the area.”
Witnesses told The Age they were shopping in the area when they saw a man throw what they believed to be a bomb into a car before it exploded.
They had initially thought the man was running to catch a tram close by, before a nearby police car rushed to the scene. They said they heard screams and cries from the crowd before they were rushed from the area.
One witness, Sarah Krug said she was heading to the night noddle markets when “all hell broke loose”.
Her immediate thought was, “Oh no, not another Bourke Street incident,” she said.
“I thought the car was coming for us,” Ms Krug said.
“I didn’t know what was happening there was just so much chaos and screaming.”
Twitter user Meegan May wrote: “Guy seems to have set his car on fire, then attacked police with a knife. Police response was swift and overwhelming. I heard at least one gunshot initially.”
Another witness said: “Big fire. Fully engulfed. Multiple loud bangs.”