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Monday, 15 December 2014

FULL UPDATE AND PICTURES FROM THE SYDNEY SIEGE!

SYDNEY, Australia — Heavily armed police officers ended a hostage siege in Sydney early Tuesday, storming a downtown cafe where an armed man who was said to be a self-proclaimed sheikh had held employees and customers for more than 16 hours
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The captor and two hostages died during the confrontation and four other people were wounded, the New South Wales Police said in a statement and at a news briefing Tuesday morning.

Live television images of the scene showed intense flashes of gunfire and loud concussions from stun grenades as police officers raced into the building with weapons drawn about 2:10 a.m. local time, followed later by medics with stretchers.

Just before the police entered the building, at least six hostages were seen running from the cafe. The police said there were 17 hostages in all.

The police statement reporting the deaths identified the hostage taker as “a 50-year-old man” but did not give his name. Andrew Scipione, the New South Wales police commissioner, referred to the man as a “lone gunman” in his remarks at the news conference.Photo

Police officials identified the hostage-taker as Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed sheikh with a criminal record. CreditDean Lewins/European Pressphoto Agency

Earlier, the police confirmed reports that the hostage-taker was Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born man around 50 with a criminal record who called himself Sheikh Haron.

The hostages who died were a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, the police said. One of the injured people was a police officer, who was treated for an injury to the face and was in good condition, the police said.

Mr. Scipione said the police moved quickly to storm the cafe after gunshots were heard inside. “They made the call because they believed that at that time, that if they didn’t enter, there would have been many more lives lost,” he said. Before the gunshots were heard, he said, the police believed that no one in the cafe had been injured.

Mr. Monis’s former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a televised interview before the siege ended that he believed Mr. Monis was acting alone. “His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Mr. Conditsis said, calling his former client “a damaged-goods individual who has done something outrageous.”

Even so, it remained unclear whether Mr. Monis had any accomplices.

The siege had transfixed Australia since Monday morning, when the armed man took control of the cafe in central Sydney with employees and customers trapped inside. The man was carrying a black flag with white Arabic script similar to those used by Islamic militants on other continents, and the flag was later displayed in the window of the cafe.

Five people, including two cafe employees, had fled by 7 p.m. Monday, but it was not clear whether the assailant had allowed them to leave or they had escaped.

Helicopters hovered over the city, the train network was temporarily stopped and strategic buildings — including the nearby Sydney Opera House, the New South Wales Parliament, the state library, law courts and the Reserve Bank — were evacuated or shut down. Traffic was stopped on part of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
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According to The Age, a national newspaper, Mr. Monis was free on bail in two separate criminal cases. He was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set on fire in an apartment in Werrington.

In April 2014, Mr. Monis was charged with the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney in 2002.

The police have said that Mr. Monis presented himself as a spiritual healer and conducted business on Station Street at Wentworthville, a western suburb of Sydney.

Mr. Monis pleaded guilty in 2013 to 12 charges related to the sending of poison-pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen who were killed overseas, local press reports said. He was reportedly sentenced to probation and community service.

A website apparently associated with Mr. Monis includes condemnation of the United States and Australia for their military actions against Islamic militants in Iraq and Afghanistan. News reports said the site also contained a posting saying Mr. Monis had recently converted from Shia to Sunni Islam.

He apparently emigrated to Australia from Iran around 1996, and was previously known as Manteghi Boroujerdi or Mohammad Hassan Manteghi. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said he was granted political asylum. In a broadcast interview in 2001, he claimed to have worked for the Iranian intelligence ministry and to have fled the country in fear for his life, leaving behind a wife and family.

A Muslim community leader in Sydney, Dr. Jamal Rifi, said in a televised interview that “everything he stands for is wrong.”

“It has nothing to do with Islam as a religion whatsoever, and we have all seen that by his previous action and his current actions,” Dr. Rifi said of Mr. Monis.

Dr. Rifi said that he did not know Mr. Monis personally, but that he did know his family well. He said Mr. Monis is not a sheikh, but had worn traditional clothes and a beard.

“He had no religious qualifications whatsoever,” Dr. Rifi said. “He has never been associated with any mainstream mosque, and he is not associated with any of our religious leaders whatsoever. He is self-proclaimed.”Continue reading the main story
Hostages Held in Sydney Cafe

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in a televised appearance from Canberra, the nation’s capital, before Mr. Monis was publicly identified, referred to him as “an armed person claiming political motivation.”

“This is obviously a deeply concerning incident,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement. “But all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner.”

Stephen Loane, the chief executive of Lindt Australia, said that nine or 10 employees were inside the cafe when the siege started, along with an unknown number of customers. “Originally, we were thinking it was a holdup,” he said, but “by the time I got down there, the streets were blocked off and there was a different situation.”
Soon after the siege began, a commercial television network, Channel Seven, which has a nearby studio, showed images of people, one wearing the Lindt Café uniform, pressed against the cafe window, holding up the black flag with white script. The message, though not entirely visible, appeared to be the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith.

Offices near the cafe were evacuated and a number of streets were closed, the police said. The police also asked that people in offices nearby “remain indoors and away from open windows.” The United States Consulate General in Sydney, about a block from the cafe, was evacuated.

Prof. Adam Dolnik, who researches terrorism at the University of Wollongong, in New South Wales, said on Monday that the hostage-taker seemed likely to be either “a lone wolf sympathetic to the issues of the Islamic State and the goal of jihad more generally” or a case of “psychopathology in search of a cause.”

A spokesman for the Islamic State militant group in the Middle East, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, issued a statement in September asking Muslims in Australia to carry out attacks of their own.

On Sept. 12, Mr. Abbott raised Australia’s terrorism alert level to high from medium after warnings from the nation’s security officials that there were increased threats to the nation. He gave the police broader powers to arrest terrorist suspects and tightened restrictions on the news media’s reporting on national security matters.

Two weeks later, police officers in Melbourne fatally shot a man who attacked them with a knife.

The grand mufti of Australia, Prof. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, and the Australian National Imams Council issued a joint statement about the hostage siege on Monday, saying they “condemn this criminal act unequivocally.”

“Today we must come together as never before,” the premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, said at the news conference. “We will get through this.” He described his country as “a harmonious society that is the envy of the world.”

In a show of solidarity, The Associated Press reported, thousands of Australians offered in social media messages to accompany people who dress in traditional Muslim clothing and are concerned about a backlash from the siege. The hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used more than 90,000 times on Twitter by late Monday evening, the agency said.



Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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