A man who stabbed three people after his pickup truck burst into flames in a Melbourne street was known to authorities for his radical views but was not considered a threat, Australian police said.
Hassan Khalid Shire Ali, 30, had his passport canceled in 2015 when authorities found he had plans to travel to Syria. He was known to the Victorian Joint Counter Terrorism Team but was not being monitored, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Ian McCarney told reporters Saturday.
ISIS had claimed responsibility for the knife attack through its media wing Amaq, the SITE Intelligence Group reported. CNN cannot independently verify the claim and no evidence to support it was provided through Amaq.
On Saturday, McCarney said Shire Ali was only inspired by the group and did not appear to be direct links.
“The event yesterday for us is a reality check. Even with the fall of the caliphate in the conflict zone, the threat continues to be real,” McCarney said.
“Obviously in terms of how and where, why and when he moved along that path from radicalization to basically putting in place those actions will be a key focus of the investigations and I dare say other investigations,” McCarney added.
Friday’s attack, which is being treated as an of act of terrorism, began when the attacker’s vehicle burst into flames and the man emerged and “engaged” with members of the public in a busy downtown street, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters Friday.
The horrifying scene was over in a matter of minutes after police shot the attacker, who died after being rushed to the hospital under police guard.
Only after he was shot did police realize that three members of the public had been stabbed. One man died later in hospital. He was identified by local media Saturday as Sisto Malasspina, the co-owner of a popular Italian restaurant in Melbourne.
Two other men underwent surgery and were in stable condition in hospital, police said Saturday.
“This is an evil and terrifying thing that has happened,” Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Late Friday, witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion from the vehicle, which burst into flames before a man emerged and began attacking people with a knife in the street, police said.
When police arrived, the man punched one of the officers through their patrol car window, Ashton told reporters. He lunged at them with a knife when they got out of the vehicle. One of the officers shot him in the chest, Ashton said.
After putting out the fire in the car, authorities found what Ashton described as “barbecue-style” bottles of gasoline inside the vehicle, which prompted authorities to call the bomb response unit to the scene.
The investigation is still in its early stages, but Ashton said police do not believe there is a “ongoing threat.”
Slain restaurant owner remembered
Sisto Malasspina, the man killed in Friday’s attack, was a well-known restaurateur, Australia’s national broadcaster ABC reported.
The 74-year-old man was remembered on social media by politicians, comedians and celebrities who described him as a great man.
Actor Russell Crowe said he knew Malasspina for more than three decades and considered him a friend.
“Sisto, il mio cuore si spezza (my heart breaks) … I’ve been going to Pellegrini’s since 1987. Never been to Melbourne without dropping in on my man Sisto,” Crowe tweeted. “South Sydney stickers on the wall and caps on display. My sweet loyal friend, stabbed in the street by a mad man. Cosí triste (so sad).”
Victoria Police said they could not currently identify the deceased victim yet but that they would not dispute media reports.
‘He has a knife’
Streets were closed, trams halted and nearby buildings evacuated as police rushed to the scene, which was crowded with shoppers and commuters late on Friday afternoon local time.
“It’s the center of Melbourne, where a lot of the transportation changes over … it’s probably the busiest part of Melbourne and late on a Friday,” said Meegan May who witnessed part incident from a nearby tram.
“It’s basically a commuter hub and a central shopping district as well.”
May said she was taking the tram into the city center when she heard someone shout “he has a knife.” She then turned around to see a vehicle on fire.
A handful of videos and images uploaded to social media appear to show the man attempting to stab police before he is shot. “There was a massive flame and bang, just smoke and lots of people,” witness Shelley Reid told CNN affiliate Nine News.
Police have asked members of the public to send images and video of the incident in order to help with their investigation.
Melbourne also would have likely had more tourists in town because of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, one of the city’s most popular social events that draws visitors from around the country. Though the main race was Tuesday, there are events scheduled until Saturday.
The Friday incident took place blocks away from Flinders Street Railway Station, where a driver plowed into pedestrians last year, injuring 18.