The National Today

Melbourne officials investigating motive in latest vehicle attack

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Welcome to The National Today, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here under "Subscribe to The National's newsletter," and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Another vehicle attack in Melbourne

A man drove an SUV through a crowd of pedestriansat one of Melbourne's busiest street corners today, injuring 19 people, four of them critically.

The incident on Flinders Street in the Australian city's central shopping district is being called a "deliberate act" by police, but they say they have no indication that it is connected to terrorism.

On Thursday, Australian police arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near Flinders Street train station in Melbourne. (Luis Ascui/Reuters)

The driver, who was arrested at the scene, was known to authorities, Victoria Police Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters. "He has a history of drug use and mental illness," the chief said, as well as "historical assault" convictions.

Many questions remain, however.

The tabloidMelbourne Sun-Herald newspaper identified the driver as "ice-addicted, Afghan-Australian Saeed Noori."

A second man who was reportedly filming the scene was also taken into custody. Police said a search revealed he was carrying a bag of knives.

Witnesses say the white Suzuki SUV sped through the intersection against the lights, plowing into the crowds of Christmas shoppers at an estimated speed of 80-100 km/h without braking. Bodies flew through the air. The victims are aged between four and 84. The youngest is one of the most seriously hurt, in critical condition with head injuries.

An off-duty police sergeant shopping nearby was the first to arrive at the scene, taking hold of the driver seconds after his SUV crashed into a nearby tram stop. Footage from a local TV station showed uniformed cops dragging him from the crumpled vehicle and cuffing him a short time later.

It was the city's second such incident this year. On Jan. 20, a man drove his car along a busy sidewalk on nearby Bourke Street, killing six people — including a three-month-old boy and a 10-year-old girl — and injuring dozens of others. James Gargasoulas, who is facing six counts of murder and 28 counts of attempted murder, entered a not-guilty plea last week.

In June, police shot a man dead after he took hostages and murdered a man in the lobby of a Melbourne apartment building. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbullcalled the attack "an act of terror." The suspect, Yacqub Khayre, had been acquitted of charges over a plot to attack an army base in Sydney in 2009. He also had a long criminal record, and had recently been paroled after serving time for a home-invasion.

Love, actually

The Royal Family has always known how to feed a good news story.

Yesterday, it was Meghan Markle joining her soon-to-be in-laws at Buckingham Palace for the Queen's annual holiday luncheon — and some snaps of Prince Harrychauffeuring his radiant fiancée home in his shiny Land Rover.

Today, it's the release of the couple's official engagement photos — direct to the public via Kensington's Palace's social media accounts.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, photographed at Frogmore House near Windsor Castle. (Alexi Lubomirski/Kensington Palace/Twitter)

Shot by New York-based fashion photographerAlexi Lubomirski on the grounds of Frogmore House, adjoining Windsor Castle, the pictures are far more relaxed and intimate than the Royals' past engagement portraits.

The palace even posted an additional "candid" shot of the smiling couple walking hand in hand on its Instagram account, as a "thank you" to followers.

"The couple are so grateful for the warm and generous messages they have received during such a happy time in their lives," read the accompanying message.

Judging by the reaction on Twitter, a lot of people are enjoying the modern look and approach.

Although not everyone was caught up in the moment.

Brussels bristles

The European Union appears to have another problem child — Poland.

Yesterday, the Brussels-based organization took the unusual step of putting the government of President Andrzej Duda on public notice, warning that his country may have its EU voting rights suspended, or even face economic sanctions, if it doesn't change its ways.

At issue are 13 laws passed over the past two years that have effectively given Duda and his right-wing Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or PiS) control over the appointment and dismissal of the country's judges, including the members of Poland's Supreme Court, as well as a special "appeal" power to reopen long-standing legal judgments.

"The common pattern is that the executive and legislative branches have been systematically enabled to politically interfere in the composition, powers, administration and functioning of the judicial branch," the European Commission, the EU's executive body, said in a statement.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has drawn the ire of the the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

"In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law, from the protection of investments to the mutual recognition of decisions in areas as diverse as child custody disputes or the execution of European Arrest Warrants."

The pointed warning is based on Article 7 of the EU's founding charter, which demands that members safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The Commission has given Poland a long list of suggested remedies and a three-month grace period to institute the changes.

Duda's response came almost immediately. Yesterday afternoon, he signed the latest changes giving him control of the Supreme Court into law.

"This view that it's an abuse of democratic standards is unfounded," the Polish president said in a televised speech last night. "It's the opposite. What is happening is a deepening of democracy. The judges will no longer rule themselves."

As things stand, tough talk might be all the EU has to offer. It would take an agreement of the other 27 member states to suspend, or otherwise punish, Poland. And Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen has already indicated that he, and his nationalist colleagues, would "veto" any such move.

With Brexit looming and the crisis in Catalonia, Brussels may not have the gumption to escalate this war of words. But the organization does have one big leverPoland receives more EU cash than any other member nation, with transfers totalling $152 billion Cdn under the seven-year budget that runs through 2020.

Quote of the moment

"That dude is a maniac."

- Enes Kanter, of the NBA's New York Knicks on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Istanbul's chief prosecutor has accused Kanter, a Turkish citizen, of insulting the leader in a series of Tweets last spring, and is seeking a four-year jail sentence. He will be tried in absentia.

What The National is reading

  • Canada abstains as UN General Assembly backs resolution to nullify U.S. move on Jerusalem. (CBC)
  • Apple admits to slowing down older iPhones. (BBC)
  • IOC reveals rules, logo for Russian athletes at Pyeongchang Games. (CBC)
  • Charlottesville to rename street after woman killed at white nationalist rally. (The Hill)
  • British hedge funds fail to stop deportation of the 'billion dollar brain.' (Guardian)
  • A woman re-reads her letter to Santa — 49 years later. (CBC)
  • All your favourite holiday songs as performed by goats. (Slate)

Today in history

Dec. 21, 1991: Recession hits Santa hard.

Silly Gen-X slacker Santas. They should have chosen a career with a future — like print journalism.

Stores cut back on the resident Man in Red amid strained budgets in 1991. 2:33

About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.