Sydney Hostage Siege Ends With Gunman and 2 Captives Dead as Police … – New York Times

Slide Show | Hostage Standoff in Sydney, Australia The man who took hostages in the city’s business district was described by the prime minister as “an armed person claiming political motivation.”
December 15, 2014

SYDNEY, Australia — Heavily armed police officers ended a hostage siege in Sydney early Tuesday, storming a downtown cafe where an armed man had held employees and customers for more than 16 hours.

The captor and two hostages died during the confrontation and four other people were wounded, the New South Wales Police said 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 at about 2:10 a.m. local time with weapons drawn, followed later by medics with stretchers.

Andrew Scipione, the New South Wales police commissioner, said the police moved quickly to enter 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.

Police officials identified the hostage-taker as Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed sheikh with a criminal record. 

Just before the police entered the building, at least six hostages were seen running from the cafe. The police said later that there had been 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. Mr. Scipione referred to the man as a “lone gunman” in his remarks at a news conference on Tuesday.

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. 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 armed man took control of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe on Martin Place in central Sydney around 9:45 a.m. Monday, trapping employees and customers inside. He had a black flag with white Arabic script, similar to those used by Islamic militants on other continents, which was later displayed in a cafe window.

During the day Monday, five people fled the cafe, including two employees, but it was not clear whether the assailant had allowed them to leave or they had escaped.

Map | Hostages Held in Sydney Cafe

Auto and rail traffic was halted and nearby buildings like the New South Wales Parliament and the Reserve Bank were evacuated or locked down, and helicopters circled overhead. Police officials said they made contact with the hostage-taker and tried to negotiate an end to the siege.

Mr. Monis was known to the police. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, he 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, and in April 2014, he was charged with the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney in 2002. Forty more counts of indecent or sexual assault relating to six other women were later added in that case.

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 media reports said. He was reportedly sentenced to probation and community service.

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

A website apparently associated with Mr. Monis included 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, and SITE, an organization that monitors Islamic extremist groups, said he posted a pledge of allegiance to the “Caliph of the Muslims.” The posting appeared to refer to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State militant group, SITE said, though the posting did not mention them by name.

Mr. Monis 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 was not a sheikh.

“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.”

In September, a spokesman for the Islamic State, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, issued a statement calling on Muslims in Australia to carry out attacks of their own. Facing an increase in threats to the country, Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, raised the country’s alert level that month and tightened restrictions on news reporting concerning national security matters.

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.”

At the news conference on Tuesday, Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales, said: “Today we must come together as never before. 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, 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 250,000 times on Twitter by late Monday evening.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Patrick J. Lyons contributed from New York.

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