The attack during the afternoon rush hour brought central Melbourne to a standstill.
"We are still trying to piece together whether the vehicle was lit, then he got out the auto or whether he got out of the auto and then the vehicle took flame", Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
A burnt out vehicle is seen on Bourke Street in Melbourne. He then engaged with members of the public at that location, " he said. "Nearly within a minute, Victorian Police officers were in attendance in an unmarked vehicle". One male person was in the vehicle.
Police arrived on the scene and were informed by eyewitnesses of what had happened.
- Officers were confronted by a man brandishing a knife and making threats. One man was armed with a cafe chair while another - swiftly dubbed an "Aussie hero" on social media - repeatedly tried to ram the suspect with an empty metal shopping cart.
Inside the Holden Rodeo were gas cylinders for a presumptive auto bombing created to slaughter dozens on the busy sidewalks.
Two survivors were rushed to hospital for treatment - one in a suspected critical condition. He said the attacker was someone known to police through family connections.
Ashton said Shire Ali had a criminal history for cannabis use, theft and driving offences.
Premier Daniel Andrews thanked the strangers who sprang into action "without a moment's hesitation".
But we are, as I say, having counter-terrorism investigations under way.
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A man with a shopping trolley is being heralded as a hero after putting himself in harm's way on Friday when he jumped in to help police take down a man who stabbed three people in Melbourne's CBD.
A white sheet covered the man as he lay on Bourke Street in the rain.
A witness, Markel Villasin, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio: "Bystanders were yelling out "just shoot him, just shoot him".
"He was breathing and he was bleeding out".
Witness footage showed police struggling for at least a minute to corral the towering man as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two officers.
It then showed a man approach two police officers with what appears to be a knife, and attempt to stab them.
"We ask the public, unless you've got a objective to be here, please avoid the area, we'll provide regular updates through the media in relation to when the area is safe and clear", he said. "One of the officers fired his firearm and shot the offender once in the chest", Ashton said.
Search warrants are being executed on two homes in Melbourne's west, which 9NEWS believes is linked to yesterday's Bourke Street terror attack.
He and a friend had just driven along the Foruma 1 route through Melbourne when they heard the sound of an explosion, which is believed to have been the attacker's auto going up in flames. And to the victims and their loved ones, we offer our prayers, support, and deepest sympathies. We won't be defined by this evil act.