Gunshots heard as army commandos enter cafe about 17 hours after siege in city centre began
Report by Peter Walker and Michael Safi, The Guardian
Picture shows Tony Abbott speaks after the siege began. Photograph Xu Haijing/Xu Haijing/Xinhua Press/Corbis
An armed siege at a cafe in the heart of Sydney has ended after commandos entered the building shortly after a series of loud bangs were heard and groups of hostages ran out onto the street.
In dramatic scenes about 17 hours after a single armed man, named in reports as Man Haron Monis, first took an unknown number of hostages, army commandos with assault rifles and wearing body armour stormed the Lindt Cafe, in a building on Martin Place, a pedestrianised street in the middle of Sydney’s central business district.
Several bursts of gunfire and loud bangs could be heard, and several people were seen being carried from the building, apparently injured. Some reports said a police officer had been hurt.
Paramedics moved in and took away several injured people on stretchers.
The chaotic scenes began as between five and seven hostages were seen running from the cafe, the second group of captives to escape since the siege began at about 9.45am on Monday local time. Later, other groups of what appeared to be hostages could be seen running out.
A gunman carrying a blue sports bag had reportedly entered the cafe and a hostage situation quickly developed, with heavily armed police surrounding the cafe and closing off the streets of the central area of Australia’s biggest city.
Early images showed some hostages apparently forced to hold a black and white flag against the window bearing the Islamic creed, raising fears that a terrorist attack was under way. Other terrified hostages inside the cafe could be seen with their hands pressed against the glass.
A black flag in the window of the cafe appeared to bear the Shahada, an Islamic affirmation of the oneness of God, reading “There is no god but the God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
The creed is common in the Islamic world and appears on the Saudi Arabian flag, but has been embraced by Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The man reported to be behind the Sydney cafe siege, Man Haron Monis, who is currently on bail facing dozens of charges of indecent and sexual assault. A fringe figure in Australia’s Muslim community, Monis has been spurned by Shia leaders, who have reportedly urged federal police to investigate the man over his claims to be an ayatollah, or Shia cleric.
The Iranian-born 49-year-old, who apparently converted from Shia Islam to Sunni only last week, was infamously involved in sending ‘grossly offensive’ letters to parents and relatives of Australian victims of terrorism and troops killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009. He unsuccessfully challenged the conviction in the high court last year.
He has also been accused of being an accessory in the killing of his ex-wife, a charge for which he remains on bail.
He told ABC News in 2001 that he fled Australia five years earlier after falling foul of the Iranian regime, which he said had placed his wife and children under house arrest. ‘I can say they are hostage,’ he said at the time.
“This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged goods individual who’s done something outrageous,” his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, made a short statement as the siege was ongoing, urging Australians to be resolute. “We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, we don’t know whether this is politically motivated although obviously there are some indications that it could be,” the prime minister said.
“We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm, that’s why we have police and security organisations of the utmost professionalism that are ready and able to respond to a whole range of situations and contingencies including this situation that we are now seeing in Sydney.”
Australia’s grand mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, said he was devastated by the news of the standoff.
“The grand mufti and the Australian National Imam Council condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam,” he said.
“We, along with the wide Australian society, await the results of the investigation about the identity of the perpetrators and their underlying
Source - http//www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/15/sydney-siege-ends-police-storm-lindt-cafe-hostages-run-out