Suspect in Australian bank fire identified as asylum seeker

November 20, 2016 2:59 AM EST

Emergency service workers are seen at a branch of the Commonwealth Bank after a fire injured customers in Melbourne, Australia November 18, 2016. AAP/Julian Smith/via REUTERS


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By Harry Pearl

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A man suspected of starting a fire in an Australian bank on Friday that injured 27 people has been identified as an asylum seeker, angering far-right groups and adding to an increasingly heated national debate over immigration.

Six people were taken to hospital in critical condition after the 21-year-old suspect walked into a Melbourne branch of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and lit an accelerant, setting himself and the office on fire, Victoria Police said, adding the man was also in serious condition.

Far-right anti-Muslim groups have seized on the arson attack to call for a ban on refugees entering the country. They rallied in the city on Sunday to celebrate Republic Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential election victory.

Political debate around Australia's hardline asylum seeker policy has been heated recently. Asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat are intercepted and sent to detention centers in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.

The detention camps have been heavily criticized by human rights groups over allegations of systemic abuses of the detainees and incidents of self harm.

Victoria’s state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday there was no political motivation involved in the attack on the bank.

“It is not a commentary, and it oughtn't to be used as a political weapon by anybody who finds fault with any of the policy settings we have at the moment," The Age newspaper quoted Andrews as saying.

Habib Habib, from the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organization, said the man alleged to have carried out the attack was a Rohingya asylum seeker.

The man, who had spent time at an immigration detention on Christmas Island, was suffering mental and financial problems, he said. A federal government source confirmed to Reuters the man arrived in Australia by boat in 2013.

(Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by Kim Coghill)



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