A day-long standoff between police and an Iranian-born gunman who had taken 17 hostages in a coffee house in downtown Sydney ended in bloodshed when Australian security forces swept in upon hearing shots fired inside. Two of the hostages were killed, as was the gunman, who had earlier forced his captives to hold up a black flag with the text “There is no god but God and Mohammed is his messenger.” Four others were wounded, including a policeman who was shot in the face.
From the Associated Press:
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. … 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.
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.
Commented his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis,
“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness.”
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 Mohammed 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. …
Of course, Monis just misunderstood his own religion:
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.”
The only silver lining:
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.
(Image via Wikipedia)