Sydney: Over 40 Australian Muslim groups today expressed “utter shock and horror” over the siege at a popular cafe here in which a number of people have been taken hostage, including an Indian techie.

“We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to instill fear and terror into their hearts,” they said in a statement, condemning the incident in which the gunman forced the hostages to hold the Islamic flag.

A coalition of Muslim groups issued the statement expressing their “utter shock and horror at the unprecedented scenes” and “asked everyone to stay calm”.

“This is a time for all Australians to stand together and support each other,” the statement said.

“Any such despicable act only serves to play into the agendas of those who seek to destroy the goodwill of the people of Australia and to further damage and ridicule the religion of Islam, and Australian Muslims in this country,” it said.

“We remind everyone that the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement, but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves,” the statement said.

Community leaders were bracing for a backlash against their communities in coming days and warned mosque members to head straight home today, The Age reported.

The Muslim community has been united in their condemnation of the events and community leaders appear puzzled by both the identity and motivation of the hostage taker, the report said.

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, said he and the Australian National Imam Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam”.

“We along with the wider Australian community await the results of the investigation about the identity of the perpetrators and their underlying motivations behind this criminal act,” Mohamed said.

Several people, including an Indian techie, were taken hostage by an armed man at the cafe in Sydney and forced to display an Islamic flag, triggering a security alert in Australia and leading to evacuation of key buildings, including the Indian Consulate here.

The incident happened at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, the heart of Sydney’s business district.

Authorities sealed off surrounding streets, evacuated people from buildings, and suspended rail services following the siege in the capital of New South Wales.
The gunman is being described as being in his forties, wearing a black vest. Police said they are in contact with the gunman.

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