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Australia car attack that injured 19 not terror-related, officials say

"All you could hear was, 'Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,'" a witness said.

By Ray Downs and Sara Shayanian
Australia car attack that injured 19 not terror-related, officials say
A damaged vehicle at the scene of an incident in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday. Twelve people are being treated by paramedics after a car, understood to be a white Suzuki SUV, drove into pedestrians in central Melbourne. Photo by Joe Castro/EPA-EFE

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The driver who injured 19 after hitting a number of pedestrians with his vehicle on a Melbourne, Australia, street had mental health issues and a record of drug abuse, authorities said Thursday.

The 32-year-old man was arrested after striking Christmas shoppers with his white Suzuki SUV on Thursday. No weapons were found inside.

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Investigators said they are working to come up with a motive, but don't believe the attack was related to terrorism.

"We understand that he is on a mental health plan and receiving treatment for a mental illness," Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said. "We're working to clarify that.

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"At this time we don't have any evidence or intelligence to establish a connection with terrorism."

A 24-year-old man who recorded the incident on his cellphone was also arrested, officials said, and police found three knives in his bag.

A young preschool-aged child was among the injured, officials said.

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Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted prayers Thursday.

"As our federal & state police & security agencies work together to secure the scene and investigate this shocking incident our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them," Turnbull wrote.

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the attack as "horrible."

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"Police have secured the scene and will provide info as it's confirmed," Andrews said. "Please avoid the area. Trains running but trams affected. Stay safe. Check on your loved ones. And thank you to our brave emergency services."

Witnesses described a chaotic and violent scene.

"As [the car] approached this intersection here ... it just mowed everybody down, people were flying everywhere," a witness told 3AW Melbourne.

"There was no braking, there was no slowing down. He went straight through the intersection. So whether it was targeted or whether he's had heart attack, or was drunk, I don't know," said a witness who owns a bakery on the street. "The car stopped because of just, I think, the amount of pedestrians that it had hit ... All you could hear was, 'Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.'"

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