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Man sets fire to Melbourne bank branch

Some 22 people have been injured - some seriously - after a man set a fire inside a bank branch in suburban Melbourne. Police said it was too early to comment on a motive.

A 21-year-old man set himself on fire in a Melbourne bank, causing an explosion that left him and five others in critical condition, police in Australia said Friday. Authorities said the man - who they did not name - entered the Commonwealth Bank branch in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale with flammable liquid. Some witnesses said he doused himself with the accelerant and went up in flames, although this was not confirmed.

Eyewitness Eric Sleuriot told "The Age" newspaper: "It's bloody awful. I just can't believe it."

Police said it was too early to determine a motive for what might prove to be an attack or a botched robbery.

"He had some sort of accelerant with him. A container, not sure what he had," police inspector Jacqui Poida told reporters at the scene. "Somehow that accelerant was lit inside the bank. He set himself alight with that fire."  

The Melbourne Age also reported that the flammable material might be gasoline obtained at a nearby service station, showing CCTV footage that appeared to be the suspect heading from the garage towards the bank.

Ashley Atkin-Fone, a civil engineer working in a nearby lane, said he heard a loud explosion followed by people screaming. He said he'd heard the man yelling that the bank would not give him any money.

"This kid comes running out, all burnt, screaming his head off, skin coming off, blood everywhere," he told the Herald Sun newspaper. He grabbed a fire extinguisher from a nearby store and ran into the bank branch to attack the flames. "What do you do? Instincts just kicked in," he said afterward.

Firefighters were quickly on the scene with Country Fire Authority official Paul Carrigg saying the doors to the bank were shut when they arrived. "The fire was inside the building. So they entered with breathing apparatus and hoselines. They rescued 25 people, with a range of injuries from minor burns [to] serious injuries," he said.

The injured bystanders range from a toddler to an elderly man in his eighties. Paramedics said six of those injured - including the suspect - were in critical condition. He remains under police guard at a nearby hospital. Springvale is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) from Melbourne's central business district.

jar/msh (AFP, dpa)