On Friday morning, the man became agitated after not having enough funds to withdraw money from the ATM at the Springvale branch in Melbourne's southeast and allegedly walked to the nearby Caltex service station to fill a plastic container with petrol. A witness told Daily Mail Australia he was 'loud and angry' when he returned minutes later to set fire to the ATM and the carpet inside the branch.
The man is believed to have travelled from Myanmar by boat in 2013 and was placed on Christmas Island before being transferred to Melbourne on a temporary visa, The Herald Sun reported. The man is believed to have been asked to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa so he could work and gain access to Medicare and Centrelink, but has not yet applied.
Witness Mr Heeraman, who chose to keep his first name anonymous, said the man was frustrated he had no money in his account and was blocked from withdrawing money from the machine. 'He went to withdraw money earlier and had no funds available so he went back later to start havoc,' he told Daily Mail Australia. 'The maniac blew up the ATM by setting himself and the machine alight. 'Some [locals] say he had financial problems and decided to take it out on the branch'.
At least 27 people were injured in Friday's blaze, with six rushed to hospital and one remains in a critical condition. Hero tradesman, Ash Atkin-Fone, who helped the victims escape the blaze said he heard the man arguing with bank tellers moments before the explosion. He said his 'instincts' immediately kicked in and he ran across the road to Optus, grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to contain the blaze. 'This kid comes running out, all burnt, screaming his head off, skin coming off, blood everywhere,' Ash Atkin-Fone said.
CCTV footage from a nearby cafe captured the moment a man walked past with a large plastic container toward a service station and headed back in the direction of the bank just six minutes before the explosion, The Age reported.
Footage shows a man, believed to be the offender, walking past Asmara Cafe with an empty plastic container to a service station and returning with it full of liquid. He is believed to have picked up the discarded container from out the front of the cafe. The Herald Sun understands the man bought petrol at the Springvale Caltex before taking it down the road and setting himself on fire. 'The site is currently closed but we are assisting police with their inquiries, and will continue to do so wherever needed,' Caltex Australia spokesman Sam Collyer said.
|Springvale Commonwealth Bank burning after the attack.|
Witness Daniel Chau told Daily Mail Australia he was grabbing lunch when he saw people running out of the bank with their faces covered in charcoal. 'I saw a man run out of the bank with his hands burnt, skin peeling off,' he said.
'The man was dragging his hand out of something. All I could hear was him screaming. He was screaming like mad. It was awful. Everyone was running and jumping around like mad. Another guy was covered in ashes. There was a lot of smoke.
'I was pretty surprised and shocked. I used to live in Springvale and I usually come here to buy my lunch but I've never seen anything like this. It was the first time I've witnessed something like this.'
A young witness said she heard people crying in the bank. 'Those that have escaped, their faces are all black and [they are] suffocating... I feel so useless just standing outside holding buckets of water,' she said.
Adam Coulshed, a local construction worker who was on site across the road from the bank, said there was a loud bang followed by plumes of black smoke. He said his co-worker helped put out the fire with a shopkeeper from a neighbouring Optus store.
'The man was trying to get money from an ATM at the time of the explosion,' he said. 'It was just black and there were people with blood [coming out of the bank].' Another woman said she received a distressing text message about her father who was caught up in the blaze.
'It's bloody awful. I just can't believe it,' eye witness Eric Sleuriot said after the incident.' My dad was in the middle of it, not realising he was helping who were hurt bad,' she said. 'How could someone walk in there and did what he did, praying for everyone.
Anthony Banh, who is the manager of Love Central Jewellery across the road from the bank, said he went outside immediately after people came running and screaming past the shop. 'I heard a loud bang - it sounded like firecrackers - there was smoke everywhere,' he said. 'A guy had severe burns on his face and arms and everything. There was another man crouched on the ground with severe burns.'
Mr Bahn said he was scared there would be another explosion and kept his distance, but other people came running on the scene to help the injured and use fire hydrants to put out the flames. 'People were quite brave,' he said. 'I was shocked it took so long for the ambulance and firefighters to come.'
In a statement, the Commonwealth Bank said its 'response team' was working with emergency services. 'We can confirm there was an incident at our Springvale branch today. Our first priority is the safety of our staff and customers and as a result the branch will remain closed for the rest of the day,' the statement read.
'Our response team is on site and we are working closely with local authorities and emergency services. 'We are deeply concerned for everyone who has been affected and we continue to work with local authorities and emergency services to provide any assistance required.' Springvale Road has been closed in both directions between Balmoral Avenue and Windsor Avenue.
The alleged attacker was transferred to Christmas Island before settling in Melbourne on a bridging visa, which allowed him to temporarily live in the community while his claim was processed. Most people on bridging visas have been granted work rights but are not eligible for full welfare payments, or given access to public housing...
The Herald Sun understands the man involved in yesterday’s attack had been invited to apply for a TPV — giving him a guaranteed right to work, and access to social security payments and public housing — but he was yet to do so. It is believed he is a member of the Rohingya minority, a Bengali-Muslim people who live mainly in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Two people were today fighting for their lives and dozens of wounded recovering after an asylum-seeker who arrived by boat three years ago allegedly ignited a container of petrol inside a Melbourne bank.
The 21-year-old Rohingya Muslim man from Burma’s Arakan was under police guard in Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital, believed to be in a critical condition, after being found cowering, wounded and badly burnt in an alley behind the bank.
The man, who is understood to have arrived illegally by boat at Christmas Island in 2013 and had been living in the community on a bridging visa, allegedly set himself alight inside the Springvale branch of the Commonwealth Bank in the city’s southeast shortly before midday, sparking an explosion and fire that swept through the building.
Witnesses described seeing the injured run screaming from the bank with horrific burns. Video of the aftermath shows flames leaping from the carpet. Customers battled black smoke to escape, with a tradesman among bystanders who rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers and doused the distressed victims with water.
The 26 victims included a toddler and an elderly man, understood to be in his 80s. “I’m shaking right now, I’m shaking,” said Tran Phan, a local trader who was captured on film in the immediate aftermath of the incident. “This guy just came into the bank and poured petrol and started lighting up. I’m so lucky I got out.”
“Apparently he was crying about how he got moved from house to house and they wouldn’t give him money”, said Ashley Atkin-Fone, a civil engineer who was working nearby. Together with a colleague, Mr Atkin-Fone rushed to assist after hearing “a big, massive explosion” and screaming. “My mate went round the back and the offender was there, he was a mess, he had his skin ripped off,” he said. “There was no way he was going to get away. He was in shock.”
The shocking attack, occurring near a primary school and one of Melbourne’s busiest suburban train stations, came after the alleged offender was seen buying fuel from a nearby petrol station. CCTV footage has captured the accused — who was under police guard last night — walking along Springvale Road moments before he arrived at the branch, distressed about his housing and financial circumstances.
Police do not believe the man’s actions were terror-related, although there might have been political elements at play. However, The Weekend Australian understands that the accused, who had made an asylum claim and came from Myanmar, was not facing deportation. He was eligible to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa, but he had not done so.
Sources claim he had been well behaved while in detention and there was no history of mental illness. After the incident the man was found cowering inside boxes in an alley at the rear of the building, suffering from burn injuries. Most of his clothes appeared to have been burnt or blown from his body.
Ambulance Victoria spokesman Andy Roughton described the immediate aftermath as “quite chaotic”. He confirmed 26 people had been transferred to hospital for treatment; six of them were “very critical”. “It’s traumatic for everyone involved, the emergency services and bystanders,” he said. “We’re conscious of that. It’s a dreadful thing to witness.”
Acting Inspector Jackie Poidas said arson police were continuing to investigate the incident and it appeared the alleged offender had used accelerant to start the fire. “He walked in to the bank and he lit that accelerant which caused some sort of fire within the bank,” she said. “He set himself alight with that fire and there was a number of other people in the bank at that time that received some injuries as well. “He left the bank, police attended shortly after and assisted him.”
Paul Carrigg, of the Country Fire Authority, said there was evidence of an explosion and significant damage had resulted. He said that the blaze appeared to have ignited just inside the front of the building. Police continue to investigate the motive behind the attack, it is the latest case of an asylum-seeker setting themselves alight, or self-immolating.