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Australian police hailed members of the public as heroes Tuesday after they stopped a man on a deadly stabbing rampage through central Sydney, pinning him to the ground with café chairs and a milk crate.
The attacker, named in local media as 21-year-old Mert Nay, allegedly killed one woman in an apartment building, and stabbed another in the back with a butcher’s knife in a nearby hotel, before he was confronted by members of the public in a dramatic daytime standoff.
Gripping footage shows the man climbing on the roof of an SUV stopped at an intersection, brandishing his knife and yelling “Allahu Albar” and “shoot me in the fucking head,” before he was restrained by a group of men who had pursued him.
“You know how many people you just stabbed, you dog?” a furious bystander yelled, aiming a kick at the prostrate attacker and threatening to kill him. “He just stabbed a chick in broad daylight.”
New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller said that while the suspect had been carrying a thumb drive espousing “terrorist ideologies” and detailing recent mass casualty attacks in New Zealand and the U.S., he had no known links to terror organizations and police were not currently treating the rampage as a terrorist attack — although it remains an “evolving investigation.”
“It is not currently classed as a terrorist incident,” he said. “As the investigation continues, we will reassess that.”
He said the man was known to police due to his history of mental health issues, while local media reported that anti-anxiety medication was found at the scene of his arrest.
“His history is unremarkable compared to the gravity of his crimes,” Fuller said.
Police said the first victim, a 21-year-old woman, was found dead in an apartment in the central business district with undisclosed injuries. The second victim, a 41-year-old woman, was in a stable condition in hospital with stab wounds to her back. There was no apparent link between the two women, police said.
The sight of the knife-wielding man sent hundreds of panicked city workers running for their lives. Uber driver Leon Baghani was driving an elderly couple when the attacker climbed onto the roof of his SUV at an intersection.
“For a second, I thought maybe he's wearing a vest of some sort and he's going to detonate himself,” Baghani told Australia’s Ten Network. “So I quickly accelerated and made a left turn and made sure that he came off the roof of the car.”
Police and politicians praised the actions of members of the public who chased the attacker, armed with chairs and a crowbar, before pinning him down. Fuller described them as “highest-order heroes.”
Speaking to reporters at the scene shortly after the incident, one of the men, 37-year-old Paul O'Shaughnessy, said they became involved after they saw the man jumping on a car.
"We were like 'Wow, what's going on here'," he said.
Along with his brother Luke, their colleague, Lee Cuthbert, and another man, Alex Roberts, they chased the man down.
"For us, it was just about restraining him," O'Shaughnessy said. "My brother, he was the hero. He got a grip of him, along with another guy we don't know, and put a crate on his head. He was just mumbling religious things.”
Police Superintendent Gavin Wood described the men as "significantly brave."
“These people are heroes," he told reporters.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the “brave actions” of the group who intervened, while New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott also hailed their actions.
“This is how Sydneysiders respond,” he said. “If you want to behave in this sort of manner, if you want to put life and property at risk, it’s not just the police who will respond.”
Cover: Paul O'Shaughnessy, center, tells how he and his brother Luke chased down a man who attempted to stab multiple people in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. Police and witnesses say a knife-wielding man yelling "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," has attempted to stab several people before being arrested, with one person taken to a hospital. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)