As 2014 comes to a close – terror, drugs and random shooting once again surfaced in Australia, America and Belgium on Monday. Armed men resorted to hostage taking and killing to attract the attention of their governments and inflict serious disruption using guns. Successful terror strikes are rare, but they have once again left the international community with a question on how to deal with these actors.
Australia’s date with horror
Sydney : Just ten days before Christmas, an armed man in the heart of Sydney stormed into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe and held several innocent people hostage, demanding not more than an Islamic State (IS) flag.
While the Australian authorities were struggling to come to terms with what had struck their society, there was no panic on the streets but there was a sense of unease.
Staff were evacuated from buildings adjoining that of the Lindt cafe, where people are believed to have been taken hostage, and companies blocks away from the scene were telling their staff not to leave their offices.
There were dozens of police cars and police vans at the scene, with more arriving as each hour passed.
At one point, heavily armed police wearing body armour were seen running away from the building only to return about five minutes later. They then surrounded a door that led from the building onto Elizabeth Street.
Several city blocks were barred by police cars and tape, and from time to time sirens could be heard.
The area around the siege is home to many of New South Wales’ most important institutions including the NSW Parliament, the State Library of NSW and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Hundreds of police officers, including snipers, surrounded the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney’s central business district shortly after the gunman took over the building at 10 a.m. Monday (6 p.m. ET on Sunday).
Chilling images from Australian media on Monday showed people, believed to be hostages, with their hands pressed against the cafe’s windows. They were holding up a black flag with Arabic writing on it reading, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.” The earliest footage showed some hostages with their palms pressed against the cafe’s window, holding up the black flag. Officers in riot gear and armed with automatic weapons lay siege to the building, which is next to the Reserve Bank of Australia. Offices in the vicinity were locked down and the financial district was left largely empty.
The holdup, which triggered a lockdown in the centre of Sydney, comes three months after Australia raised its terrorism alert to the highest level in a decade.
Meanwhile, local Australians started reaching the country’s Muslim community on Twitter with hashtag #IllRideWithYou. And, public transport users are offering to act as buddies for anyone who might be nervous to appear in public wearing religious attire.
As news of the crisis spread, another user in South Australia wrote: “If you wear religious attire, & need to get from #Adelaide’s west suburbs to the city on Tues but don’t want to travel alone #Illridewithyou.”
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l not an Islamic State flag
The flag shown being held by hostages against the window of Lindt Chocolat Cafe is not an Islamic State flag, but is an Islamic flag that has been co-opted by jihadist groups. The flag appears to be a Shahada flag, which represents a general expression of faith in Islam, but has been co-opted by various jihadist groups. The translation of the flag is: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
l Two held for terror act
Just moments before the hostage situation at Martin Place began, police announced the arrest of two Sydney men as part of a major counter-terrorism investigation. Police apprehended a 25-year-old terror suspect in Beecroft in Sydney’s leafy north-western suburbs this morning, reportedly as he was leaving a prayer hall.
l The humane face
Australians immediately took to social networking sites. One woman wrote on Facebook: “…and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab”. “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute — then walked off alone”. Hashtag #IllRideWithYou on Twitter one woman wrote: “I make a commitment, right now, to always say something when I see any kind of abuse on public transport. #Illridewithyou,” one user tweeted.”