San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Terrorism

Gunman, 2 hostages killed and 4 wounded as Australian police storm sieged cafe

A gunman and two hostages were killed and four other people were wounded in the Sydney cafe siege early Tuesday, police said.

The 50-year-old male hostage-taker was shot and pronounced dead after being taken to hospital, New South Wales police said in a statement.

A man, aged 34, and a woman, 38, were also pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.

Australian police early Tuesday dramatically stormed a central Sydney cafe to end a day-long siege sparked when an Iranian-born Islamist took more than a dozen people hostage.

Police in SWAT-style gear hurled percussion grenades, unleashing a flurry of loud bangs and flashes in the eatery in the heart of Australia’s biggest city, after a number of the staff and customers managed to flee for their lives.

Police moved in after the gunman reportedly fired his shotgun.

Channel 7 reporter Chris Reason, whose office is opposite the cafe, said a call came from police communications that there was a “hostage down,” prompting officers to storm the building without warning.

An AFP photographer saw one body carried out. Australian media said the gunman had also been killed, with ABC tweeting that police had confirmed the hostage-taker was dead.

Sky News, which earlier reported four people were wounded, said a third person had died.

Royal North Shore Hospital had admitted a 39-year-old policeman with a gunshot graze to his cheek, a woman in her 40s in a serious but stable condition with a gunshot wound to her leg, and a woman suffering from backpain, a spokeswoman told AFP.

A bomb robot, which is used to detect and disarm explosives, was sent into the building as police declared the siege over and medics tended to hostages.

“Sydney siege is over. More details to follow,” police announced on Twitter ahead of a planned press conference.

The hostage­taker, who earlier had unfurled an Islamic flag, was named by ABC television and other media as a 49-year-old Iranian-born “cleric” called Man Haron Monis.

They published a photo of him sporting a beard and a white turban and said he was on bail for a series of violent offences.

The pre­Christmas siege of the Lindt chocolate cafe began Monday morning and triggered a massive security lockdown in Sydney’s bustling financial district as hundreds of police surrounded the site.

‘A damaged-goods individual’

Monis’ former lawyer Manny Conditsis said the public could be assured that the siege was not the work of an organized terrorist group.

“This is a one-off random individual,” he told broadcaster ABC. “It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-­goods individual who’s done something outrageous.”

The Australian newspaper called Monis a “self­-styled sheikh” who had sent offensive letters to the families of dead soldiers and was on bail on charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

It said he arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996, lived in Sydney’s southwest and was “understood to be a fringe Islamist.”

Police did not deny the reports. They said they knew who the hostage-taker was but would not identify him with operations continuing.

The government said earlier there was no clear motivation. But the Islamic flag appeared to be one commonly used by jihadist groups bearing the shahada, or profession of faith in Arabic script:­­ “There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is his messenger.”

The gunman, reportedly armed with a shotgun, made a series of demands through Australian media but they were removed after police requested they not be made public.

Australia has been on high alert with the government raising concerns that citizens who have fought alongside Sunni jihadists in Iraq and Syria could return home radicalized and carry out “lone wolf” attacks.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott convened a national security meeting to deal with the “disturbing” development.

Some six hours into the siege, three men emerged from the cafe and ran for their lives. Around an hour later two distraught women employees also fled, and then several more people managed to run out late in the night.

One of the escapees was barista Elly Chen whose sister Nicole said on Facebook: “Yessss I finally see you. I’m so glad you’re safe!!!!”

‘Gunaman rotating hostages’

Channel 7’s Reason tweeted earlier: “From inside Martin Place newsroom, we’ve counted around 15 hostages ­­ not 50 ­­ mix of women, men, young, old ­ but no children.”

Reason added: “We can see gunman is rotating hostages, forcing them to stand against windows, sometimes 2 hours at a time.”

The scene of the drama, Martin Place, is Sydney’s financial center and houses several prominent buildings, including the New South Wales parliament, the U.S. consulate, the country’s central bank and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Many shops and offices in the area shut early due to the scare, with only a trickle of people walking along usually bustling streets.

At the nearby Sydney Opera House, which police had swept earlier Monday, evening performances were cancelled.

“It’s sad to think this is my home and that it could happen anywhere,” said onlooker Rebecca Courtney.

More than 40 Australian Muslim groups jointly condemned the hostage­taking and the use of the flag, which they said had been hijacked by “misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves”.

The government in September raised its terror threat level and police conducted large­scale counter­terror raids across the country. Only two people were charged.

More than 70 Australians are believed to be fighting for Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. At least 20 have died.

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