Two killed as Sydney siege ends

Two killed as Sydney siege ends
The heart of Sydney's financial district was in lockdown Monday, with hundreds of armed police surrounding the Lindt Chocolat Cafe where a man had taken several people hostage.
4 min read
15 December, 2014
Hundreds of police flooded into the area, streets were closed and offices evacuated [Gettty]
A day-long siege in a central Sydney cafe ended early on Tuesday with at least two people killed as heavily armed police forces stormed in.

Security forces in SWAT-style gear intervened, unleashing a flurry of loud bangs and flashes in the eatery in the heart of Australia's largest city, after a number of the staff and customers managed to flee for their lives.

One body was seen carried out by an AFP photographer. Australian media said that in addition, the gunman was shot dead by police. Sky News also reported four people were wounded, three of them critically.

Royal North Shore Hospital had admitted a woman in her 40s with a gunshot wound to her leg, a spokeswoman told AFP. She was in a serious but stable condition.

     It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged­goods individual who's done something outrageous.
- Manny Conditsis, the hostage-taker's former lawyer.

A bomb robot, which is used to detect and disarm explosives, was subsequently sent into the building as police declared the siege over and medics tended to hostages.

"Sydney siege is over. More details to follow," police announced on Twitter.

A 'random individual'

The hostage-­taker was identified by ABC television and other media as a 49-year-old Iranian-­born "cleric" named Man Haron Monis.

They published a photo of him sporting a beard and a white turban and said he was on bail for a series of violent offences.

The pre­-Christmas siege of the Lindt chocolate cafe began on Monday morning and triggered a massive security lockdown in Sydney's financial district as hundreds of police surrounded the site.

Monis' former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, said the public could be assured that the siege was not the work of an organised terrorist group.

"This is a one-off random individual," he told broadcaster ABC.

"It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged­goods individual who's done something outrageous."

The Australian newspaper called Monis a "self-­styled sheikh" who had sent offensive letters to the families of dead soldiers and was on bail on charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

It said he arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996, lived in Sydney's southwest and was "understood to be a fringe Islamist".
     "Yessss I finally see you. I'm so glad you're safe!!!!"
- Nicole Chen, a hostage's sister.

Police did not deny the reports. They said they knew who the hostage-taker was but would not identify him with operations continuing.

The government said earlier there was no clear motivation for the attack.

The gunman, reportedly armed with a shotgun, made a series of demands through Australian media but they were removed after police requested they not be made public.

Australia has been on high alert with the government raising concerns that citizens who have fought alongside armed groups in Iraq and Syria could return home radicalised and carry out "lone wolf" attacks.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott convened a national security meeting to deal with the "disturbing" development.

Some six hours into the siege, three men emerged from the cafe and ran for their lives. Around an hour later two distraught women employees also fled, and then several more people managed to run out late in the night.

One of the escapees was barista Elly Chen whose sister Nicole said on Facebook: "Yessss I finally see you. I'm so glad you're safe!!!!"

'Gunman rotating hostages'

Channel Seven reporter Chris Reason, whose office is opposite the cafe, tweeted earlier: "From inside Martin Place newsroom, we've counted around 15 hostages, not 50,­­ mix of women, men, young, old,­ but no children."

     It's sad to think this is my home and that it could happen anywhere.
- Rebecca Courtney, bystander

Reason added: "We can see gunman is rotating hostages, forcing them to stand against windows, sometimes 2 hours at a time."

Television footage shot through the cafe's windows also showed two people holding up a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith (Shahada) written on it in Arabic. It is thought to have been the flag used by the Islamic Courts Union, the former rulers of Somalia, and is similar in appearance to other "jihadi" flags.

More than 40 Australian Muslim groups jointly condemned the hostage­ taking and the use of the flag, which they said had been hijacked by "misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves".

Martin Place is the heart of Sydney's financial centre, which houses several prominent buildings, including the New South Wales parliament, the US consulate, the country's central bank and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Many shops and offices in the area shut early due to the scare, with only a trickle of people walking along usually bustling streets.

At the nearby Sydney Opera House, which police had swept earlier on Monday, evening performances were cancelled.

"It's sad to think this is my home and that it could happen anywhere," said onlooker Rebecca Courtney.

The government in September raised its terror threat level and police conducted large­ scale counter-terror raids across the country. Only two people were charged.

More than 70 Australians are believed to be fighting for armed Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria. At least 20 have been reported to have died.