Police say van explosion not motivated by ideology

UPDATE: Police have ruled out political, religious or ideological motivations for an explosion that badly damaged the Australian Christian Lobby headquarters in Canberra on last night.

Toowoomba Christian lobbyist Lyle Shelton had earlier linked the van explosion to left wing activists.

A vehicle carrying gas bottles was parked outside the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby in Canberra last night and set alight, causing an explosion.

Police have said the attack was not politically, religiously or ideologically-motivated.

Speaking at the scene this morning Mr Shelton, a former Toowoomba councillor and head of the lobby, said he was shocked and devastated by the incident.

He said the attack was distressing given the context of continued death threats that staff had received from leftist groups.

"We have received death threats, threats of violence, threatening phone calls.

"Our receptionist has borne the brunt of most of that."

Mr Shelton said he did not know what motivated the attack, which he referred to as a car bombing. 

"This is the place where myself and my team have worked for the last eight or nine years and to see your workplace the subject of an attack like this is very emotional."

Mr Shelton said glass in the window of his personal assistant's office had been "completely blown in".

"The downstairs windows are blown in, this is a truly horrific scene."

The lobby has been outspoken on issues and is strongly against same-sex marriage and the controversial Safe Schools program.

Mr Shelton said the group would not be intimidated by the attack and would continue to convey its messages.

"Obviously it was someone who didn't agree with the message that we have. Didn't agree with our position on marriage, our position on the Safe Schools program.

Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. Photo Contributed
Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. Photo Contributed Contributed

"We're not going to stop talking about these issues and participating in our free and democratic society."

The lobby group was forced to cancel a meeting in the Mercure Hotel in Sydney during September after threats were issued.

Alex Greenwich, a staunch opponent of the ACL and  co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality tweeted in support of the group following the attack.

Member for Groom Dr John McVeigh said he was shocked by the incident.

"As a former Toowoomba councillor and resident with close ties to this community I extend my thoughts to ACL managing director Lyle Shelton and I am pleased he is not deterred by the attack.

"My thoughts and prayers are with his staff and volunteers and I am relieved that no one was inside the building at the time.

"We must continue to uphold our Australian democracy and the rule of law. While a respectful and robust argument between those of differing opinions is welcomed, acts of violence and destruction can never be tolerated.

"The next step is to find out what the motivations were behind this attack. This incident happening at a time that most Australians are preparing for a period of peace and family gatherings is particularly distressing.

"We as Australians should be thankful that we live in a country with a responsible political system, with political parties that work together to keep our citizens safe and where the vast majority of us get along regardless of our race, country of birth or religion.

"We are not immune from what is happening around the world in terms of political and social unrest, but perhaps it is time for further debate within the parliament and our communities on what we need to do to preserve our way of life."

ACT Policing said in a statement that police were investigating an incident in Deakin last night following a vehicle fire. 

About 9.35pm, ACT Policing received a report from ACT Fire and Rescue that a vehicle had exploded and was on fire adjacent to a building on Campion St, Deakin.

The building houses the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby.

"The driver appears to have ignited gas cylinders within the vehicle, causing an explosion which damaged the vehicle and building," a spokesman said.

"The male presented himself to the Canberra Hospital with serious burn injuries. Police spoke briefly with the man before he continued with treatment.

"Police were able to establish the man's actions were not politically, religiously or ideologically motivated.

"Investigations are ongoing; however it is unknown when police will be able to speak with the man further, due to his medical condition.

"Police have identified the man as a 35-year-old Australian citizen residing in the ACT.

"The man is not previously known to police.

"Police will be conducting a thorough investigation including previous threats to the Australian Christian Lobby."

ACT Policing Deputy Chief Police Officer Mark Walters reassured the community that there was no concern for public safety.

"Police are conducting a thorough investigation and there is no threat to public safety.

"We want the Canberra community to go about their business today reassured that ACT Policing is working to establish the circumstances surrounding this incident," Com Walters said.

EARLIER: A vehicle carrying gas bottles was driven into the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby in Canberra last night and set alight, causing an explosion.

Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton last night tweeted a photograph of the incident and said that no staff were injured.

"A vehicle has rammed our office in Canberra & exploded all staff are safe," he posted.

"I do not know the condition of the driver. Prayers appreciated."

Mr Shelton is a former Toowoomba councillor.

A man is believed to have driven the white van towards the Eternity House building about 10.45pm. The explosion destroyed the vehicle and blew out some of the windows of the office building.
The car was a smouldering wreck by the time emergency services arrived at the scene only to find the shell of the van remaining with tyres melted from wheels.

"Police contacted me and told me that someone has driven a white van into the carpark of our office and it has been loaded with gas cylinders and then it has been detonated," Mr Shelton said.

Australian Capital Territory Police confirmed a vehicle was driven towards the front of the building and a police operation was under way.

"Investigations into a vehicle fire at the Australian Christian Lobby and no one was injured inside the building," the spokesman said.

"There are no public safety issues and ACT are seeking any witnesses to the incident."

Mr Shelton said he was relieved there were no staff in the building at the time and is flying back from holidays with his family in Queensland first thing in the morning to talk with ACT Police.

"We have had the normal trolls on social media and even had death threats sent to our Canberra office over the year but I am very concerned someone would do this," Mr Shelton said.

"It is a relief the building was unoccupied at the time and we are all very thankful our staff are all safe.

"Obviously this is very unsettling to us but also to anyone in Australia, for this to happen in Canberra, our nation's capital is very disappointing.

"It is something I thought would never happen here, I can't believe it."

No arrests have been made but it is believed the alleged driver of the van is receiving medical attention.

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