UPDATE 8-Police storm Sydney cafe to end hostage siege, three dead – Reuters
* Three people killed, including gunman – police
* Police say gunfire inside cafe prompted them to move in
* Gunman had history of mental instability and extremism –
* Some hostages forced to make videos with gunman’s demands
(Adds details on wounded, memorial service, paragraphs 12, 17)
By Lincoln Feast and Colin Packham
SYDNEY, Dec 16 (Reuters) – Heavily armed Australian police
stormed a Sydney cafe early on Tuesday morning and freed
terrified hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic
end to a 16-hour siege in which two captives and the attacker
Authorities have not publicly identified the gunman, but a
police source named him as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee
and self-styled sheikh known for sending hate mail to the
families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan. He was
charged last year with being an accessory to the murder of his
ex-wife but had been free on bail.
During the siege, several videos were posted on social media
apparently showing hostages inside the Lindt cafe in Sydney’s
central business district making demands on behalf of Monis.
The gunman, whom hostages referred to as “brother”, demanded
to talk to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the delivery of an
Islamic State flag, and that media broadcast that Australia was
under attack by Islamic State.
Abbott said the gunman was well known to authorities and had
a history of extremism and mental instability.
Police are investigating whether the two hostages were
killed by the gunman or died in the crossfire, said Andrew
Scipione, police commissioner for the state of New South Wales.
Around 2 a.m. local time (1500 GMT on Monday), at least six
people believed to have been held captive in the cafe managed to
flee after gunshots were heard coming from inside.
Police then moved in, with heavy gunfire and blasts from
stun grenades echoing from the building.
“They made the call because they believed at that time if
they didn’t enter there would have been many more lives lost,”
Scipione told reporters just before dawn.
CAFE MANAGER, LAWYER KILLED
Police said a 50-year-old man, believed to be the attacker,
was killed. Television pictures showed he appeared to have been
armed with a sawn-off shotgun.
A man aged 34 and a 38-year-old woman were also killed,
police said. The man was the cafe manager, and the woman was a
mother and lawyer, Sydney media reported.
At least four were wounded, including a policeman hit in the
face with shotgun pellets. Among the wounded was a 75-year-old
woman who was shot in the shoulder, police said. Two other
pregnant women who were among the hostages were taken to
hospital for assessment. All were in stable condition.
Medics tried to resuscitate at least one person after the
raid, a Reuters witness said. Bomb squad members moved in to
search for explosives, but none were found.
So far 17 hostages have been accounted for, including at
least five who were released or escaped on Monday.
The area around the cafe remained cordoned off with police
tape on Tuesday morning.
Office workers stood in long queues outside florist shops,
with many bouquets already placed near the police tape. Dozens
of bouquets also formed a makeshift shrine at a nearby train
station, while flags flew at half mast across the country.
A memorial service, attended by community leaders including
Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, was held at St Mary’s Cathedral
on Tuesday, barely a block from where the siege unfolded.
Leaders from around the world had expressed their concern
over the siege, including Stephen Harper, the prime minister of
Canada, which suffered an attack on its parliament by a
suspected jihadist sympathiser in October.
NO LINKS TO TERROR GROUPS
Monis was found guilty in 2012 of sending threatening
letters to the families of eight Australian soldiers killed in
Afghanistan as a protest against Australia’s involvement there.
He was also facing more than 40 sexual assault charges.
“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with
extremism and mental instability,” Abbott told reporters in
Canberra. The prime minister did not identify the gunman.
New South Wales Premier Mike Baird declined to comment when
asked by a journalist whether it was appropriate for Monis to be
free on bail.
A U.S. security official said the U.S. government was being
advised by Australia that there was no sign at this stage that
the gunman was connected to known terrorist organisations.
Although the hostage taker was known to the authorities,
security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone
“We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more
dangerous and more difficult to defeat than al Qaeda ever was,”
said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin,
speaking in New York.
Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its
escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has
been on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning
from fighting in the Middle East or their supporters.
News footage showed hostages in the cafe holding up a black
and white flag displaying the Shahada, a declaration of faith in
Islam. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant
groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
The incident forced the evacuation of nearby buildings.
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 that
was revealed as a potential location for the thwarted beheading.
Muslim leaders urged calm. The Australian National Imams
Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally” in a joint
statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.
A social media movement showing solidarity with Australian
Muslims was also gathering steam.
(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell, Matt Siegel, Swati
Pandey, Wayne Cole and Jason Reed in Sydney and Mark Hosenball
in Washington; Writing by Dean Yates and Paul Tait; Editing by
Will Waterman; Editing by)