Monday, December 15, 2014
Cops end Sydney siege-three people were killed — the gunman and two of the hostages — and four others were wounded.
Two dead as cops end Sydney siege
December 15 2014 at 07:12pm
By Lincoln Feast and Colin Packham
Police officers wearing armoured suits walk with a robot towards the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place in central Sydney. Photo: Jason Reed
Sydney - Australian security forces opened fire on Tuesday as they stormed the Sydney cafe where several hostages were being held at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a standoff that had dragged on for more than 16 hours.
Media said that two people, including the gunman, had been killed. New South Wales police declined to comment on the reports, and it was not clear whether the fatalities occurred during the rescue operation itself.
Heavy gunfire and loud bangs from stun grenades filled the air shortly after 2 am local time (1500 GMT on Monday).
Moments earlier at least six people believed to have been held captive managed to flee the scene after several loud bangs were heard coming from the cafe.
Medics were seen trying to resuscitate one person after the raid and took away several injured people on stretchers, said a Reuters witness at the scene in downtown Sydney.
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A screengrab of the man believed to be the gunman inside the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney. Screengrab: SEVEN NEWS TV CHANNEL
The operation began shortly after a police source named the gunman as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh facing multiple charges of sexual assault as well as being an accessory to murder.
He was also found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, as a protest against Australia's involvement in the conflict, according to local media reports.
Although he was well known to the authorities, security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone could still be difficult.
”Today's crisis throws into sharp relief the dangers of lone wolf terrorism,” said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin, speaking in New York.
“There are two areas of concern. The first is ISIS (Islamic State) fighters with foreign passports who return to their home countries to commit acts of terrorism.
“The second is ISIS sympathisers radicalised on the internet who take it upon themselves to commit terrorist attacks to fulfil their radical ideology.
“We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat, than al-Qaeda ever was.”
During the siege, hostages had been forced to display an Islamic flag, igniting fears of a jihadist attack.
Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.
News footage showed hostages holding up a black and white flag displaying the Shahada - a testament to the faith of Muslims. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
At least five hostages were released or escaped on Monday, with terrified cafe workers and customers running into the arms of paramilitary police.
A further 15 or so hostages were understood to have been holed up inside the cafe.
The incident forced the evacuation of nearby buildings and sent shockwaves around a country where many people were turning their attention to the Christmas holiday following earlier security scares.
In September, anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in the city of Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.
The siege cafe is in Martin Place, a pedestrian strip popular with workers on a lunch break, which was revealed as a potential location for the thwarted beheading.
In the biggest security operation in Sydney since a bombing at the Hilton Hotel killed two people in 1978, major banks closed their offices in the central business district and people were told to avoid the area.
Muslim leaders urged calm. The Australian National Imams Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally” in a joint statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.
Concerns about an attack in Australia by Islamists have been growing for more than a year, with the security agency raising its national terrorism public alert to “high” in September. - Reuters
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SYDNEY (AP) — Amid a barrage of gunfire, police stormed a cafe in the heart of Sydney early Tuesday to end a 16-hour hostage siege by an Iranian-born gunman. Police said three people were killed — the gunman and two of the hostages — and four others were wounded.
Police raided the Lindt Chocolat Cafe after they heard a number of gunshots from inside, said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.
"They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost," he said.
The gunman was identified as Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan.
Scipione wouldn't say whether the two hostages who were killed — a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman — were caught in crossfire, or shot by the gunman. Among the four wounded was a police officer shot in the face.
"Until we were involved in this emergency action, we believe that no one had been injured. That changed. We changed our tactic," he said, adding that there had been a total of 17 hostages taken in the cafe when the siege began.
The standoff ended when a loud bang was heard from the cafe and five people ran out. Shortly after, police swooped in, amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes. A police bomb disposal robot also was sent into the building, but no explosives were found.
Police said an investigation is underway because police were involved in an incident in which people died.
Local media identified the gunman as 50-year-old Monis, and a police official confirmed his identity. Under department rules, officials do not identify themselves unless speaking at a formal news conference.
Monis has long been on officials' radar. Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for using the postal service to send what a judge called "grossly offensive" letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.
At the time, Monis said his letters were "flowers of advice," adding: "Always, I stand behind my beliefs."
He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He has been out on bail on the charges.
"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.
"His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Conditsis said.
The siege began around 9:45 a.m. in Martin Place, a plaza in Sydney's financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year. Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken captive as they stopped in for their morning coffees.
Hundreds of police blanketed the city as streets were closed and offices evacuated. The public was told to stay away from Martin Place, site of the state premier's office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation's largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away, and the landmark Sydney Opera House also is nearby.
Throughout the day, several people were seen with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the window of the cafe, with two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.
The Shahada translates as "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger." It is considered the first of Islam's five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.
Channel 10 news said it received a video in which a hostage in the cafe had relayed the gunman's demands. The station said police requested they not broadcast it, and Scipione separately asked all media that might be contacted by the gunman to urge him instead to talk to police.
A number of Australian Muslim groups condemned the hostage-taking in a joint statement and said the flag's inscription was a "testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals."
In a show of solidarity, many Australians offered on Twitter to accompany people dressed in Muslim clothes who were afraid of a backlash from the cafe siege. The hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used more than 90,000 times by late Monday evening.
Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.
The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe's windows. Reporter Chris Reason said the man carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.
Some of the hostages were forced up against the windows.
"The gunman seems to be sort of rotating these people through these positions on the windows with their hands and faces up against the glass," Reason said in a report from the vantage point. "One woman we've counted was there for at least two hours — an extraordinary, agonizing time for her surely having to stand on her feet for that long."
"When we saw that rush of escapees, we could see from up here in this vantage point the gunman got extremely agitated as he realized those five had got out. He started screaming orders at the people, the hostages who remain behind," he added.
Reason later reported that staff brought food from a kitchen at the rear of the cafe and the hostages were fed.
As night set in, the lights inside the cafe were switched off. Armed police guarding the area outside fitted their helmets with green-glowing night goggles.
"This is a very disturbing incident," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. "It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation."
Lindt Australia thanked the public for its support.
"We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families," the company wrote in a Facebook post.
Australia's government raised the country's terror warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group. Counterterror law enforcement teams later conducted dozens of raids and made several arrests in Australia's three largest cities — Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. One man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a random person in downtown Sydney.
The Islamic State group, which now holds a third of Syria and Iraq, has threatened Australia in the past. In September, Islamic State group spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued an audio message urging so-called "lone wolf" attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia. Al-Adnani told Muslims to kill all "disbelievers," whether they be civilians or soldiers.
One terrorism expert said the situation appeared to be that of a "lone wolf" making his own demands, rather than an attack orchestrated by a foreign jihadist group.
"There haven't been statements from overseas linking this to extremist groups outside the country — that is quite positive," said Charles Knight, lecturer in the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Australia's Macquarie University. "The individual or individuals involved didn't kill early, which is part of the pattern of some recent international attacks. ... It seems to be shifting more into the model of a traditional hostage situation, rather than the sort of brutal attacks we've seen overseas."
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.