Sydney: A nearly 16-hour hostage crisis in the heart of Sydney — the first terror attack on Australian soil — ended early Tuesday after police stormed a cafe and rescued about 30 hostages, including an Infosys employee from Andhra Pradesh.
The hostage-taker — Iran-born cleric Man Haron Monis, who was granted asylum in Australia in 1996 — was believed to be among the three people who had been killed in the café. Australian media reports quoted the man’s former lawyer as saying he was acting alone. Incidentally, Monis had been sentenced to 300 community service hours for sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. The siege followed an unsuccessful attempt to have these charges overturned in the High Court on Friday.
Monis was carrying with him 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 café by the weeping hostages. The flag was inscribed with the words ‘there is no God but Allah.’
Just before the police entered the building, terrified hostages started emerging from the cafe on their own or in small groups. Police took the cue and launched an assault on the building before sending in bomb-disposal robots and anti-terror officers wearing specialist full-body bomb suits. This was owing to fears that the hostage-taker may have planted explosives in the cafe.
At least two people were seen being taken away from the scene on stretchers: One of them, a hostage, appeared to be in pain, and blood flowed down her legs.
Five people, including two cafe employees, had fled earlier in the day, but it was not clear whether the assailant had allowed them to leave or they had escaped. Helicopters hovered over the city all day, 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.
The drama began unfolding around 9,30 am (local time), when a gunman entered the cafe, located in one of busiest plazas in Sydney’s central business district, and pulled a shotgun from a blue carry bag and disabled the doors to the cafe. One of his immediate demands was for an ISIS flag; he made the demand in a phone call to a local radio station. He also insisted that he be allowed to speak with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The chilling incident, days ahead of Christmas, took place barely 400 meters from the Indian Consulate, which was promptly evacuated. Also located in the vicinity are the offices of India Tourism, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and New India Insurance.
The family of Infosys employee Ankireddy Vishwakant told the media in Andhra Pradesh that he had been rescued and was safe. Vishwakant, who was recently granted Australian citizenship, stopped at the cafe on his way to work when the gunman took him and 29 others hostage, his family said.
A selfie shame erupted on Twitter after onlookers got into a scramble to take pictures of themselves at the venue of the Sydney terror siege.
All day people were uploading selfies on Twitter from as close as possible to where the hostage siege was taking place. Just to make the photos more authentic some even took them with television cameras in the background. At one stage two women even looked like they were taking a ‘celebration selfie’ than one at the site of a hostage siege.