In a horrific incident, a 29-year-old Indian-origin bus driver was today burned to death when a man poured some flammable liquid on him in front of several shocked passengers in Australia’s Brisbane city, police said.
Manmeet Alisher, a well-known singer in the Punjabi community, was driving a Brisbane City Council bus when he was targeted by the man who threw an “incendiary device” at him which sparked a fire.
Alisher died on the spot while several passengers on board the bus at the time managed to escape through the rear door, said police in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.
Six persons were rushed to a nearby hospital for smoke inhalation and minor injuries, they said.
Police said there was “no apparent motive” including terror or race related.
A 48-year-old man was taken into custody over the incident.
Detectives from South Brisbane district and the state crime command’s homicide group have commenced a homicide investigation, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said.
Preliminary inquiries indicate just after 9 am (local time) passengers were boarding a bus on Beaudesert Road when a man threw an item at the driver causing fire, police said.
Police said the bus, carrying six passengers, pulled into Moorvale Shopping Centre on Beaudesert Road to pick up three passengers when the incident took place.
Flags will be flown at half mast across Brisbane on Saturday as a mark of respect for the Alisher.
Stewart ruled out any possibilities of the attack being a racially motivated one, saying there was no such indication.
“There is no evidence at this time of any linkage to terrorist-type activities and certainly that has not become evident through the ongoing investigations that have occurred. We do not believe there is any evidence at this stage linking this to a racial complaint or concern by either of the people involved,” Stewart said.
“While we do not know the actual motive at this stage, I want to reassure the community that we take these incidents very seriously and that is why as a precaution, officers from the state security and counter terrorism group have also been involved,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Punjabi community in Brisbane expressed shock over the death of Manmeet Alisher, also known as Manmeet Sharma.
“Words escape me, it is a horrific incident here in the quiet suburb of Moorooka,” Queensland Police Superintendent Jim Keogh said.
“A bus driver, going about doing his business, supporting the community, has had his life taken from him in what is a senseless and needless act. The fire was substantial, he would have stood little chance,” he said.
Keogh said the passengers were visibly shaken and considered themselves lucky.
“It is lucky the whole bus did not become engulfed in flames. They are traumatised... it was rather rapid,” he said.
Meanwhile, a taxi driver Aguek Nyok, who was walking past the bus when the fire broke out, said he kicked in the bus’s back door to free trapped passengers.
“Unfortunately I could not go inside because there were fumes. It was smoky, you cannot even think of going there, and the fire was getting higher and higher,” he said.
Stewart said, “We understand several passengers on board the bus at the time managed to escape via the rear door and I also understand that is partly because of the heroic the actions of a taxi driver”.
“Our top priority now is to assist the loved ones of the bus driver who sadly perished in this incident,” Stewart said.
State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also expressed her shock and said the thoughts of Queenslanders were with him.
“I was absolutely shocked to hear today in the middle of the Domestic and Family Violence summit that a young bus driver had lost his life in such horrendous circumstances,” she said.
“Police commissioner has advised me that the police are continuing to undertake investigations around this matter. There were witnesses on the bus as well, and once again our hearts go out to the family of that young bus driver killed in such horrendous circumstances,” Palaszczuk said.
Brisbane Mayor Graham Quirk said, “It is a very, very sad day for council and the wider community to see the loss of one of our drivers and in this way”.
He said the council would pay tribute to Alisher.
“One thing we will be doing as an organisation tomorrow is to fly the flags of Brisbane at half mast as a mark of respect to our bus operator. It is just a very, very sad set of circumstances,” Quirk said.
He said an onboard camera captured the attack.
“Footage has been provided to the Queensland Police Service to assist them with their investigations at this time. The advice that I am getting from police is that this is a random act,” Quirk said.
Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner said the council’s thoughts and prayers were with the driver’s relatives and friends.
“We lost a member of the Council family, the Brisbane family, today with the senseless and inexplicable murder of one of our bus drivers. The best thing we can do as a community at this time is to show all of our bus drivers the appreciation and respect we have for them,” Schrinner said.
Local councillor Steve Griffiths said a vigil will be held tomorrow at 5.30 pm (local time) to pay tribute to bus driver.
Transport Workers’ Union Queensland Secretary Peter Biagini said, “Our hearts go out to everybody affected by this terrible incident, and praise the quick thinking taxi driver who helped get people off the bus”.
According to The Brisbane Times, there have been over 350 assaults on bus drivers across Queensland in the past six months.
IMAGE: Manmeet Alisher