An armed jihadist took 17 people hostage in a Lindt Chocolat Café in Martin Place, located in downtown Sydney. They were held for over 16 hours by the gunmen before police stormed the building in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Several hostages ran out of the building, but it is as yet unclear if they escaped or were freed. The hostage crisis is now over according to the New South Wales police.
The unfolding siege immediately made international headlines. By the time it was over, the terrorist and two other persons are reported to be dead and several others wounded as a result of an exchange of fire between the police and the terrorist.
The siege began at 9:44 am local time when the terrorist, now identified as Man Haron Monis, seized control of the busy café on Monday morning and took dozens of people hostage.
He forced the hostages to display a jihadist flag against the window. The black flag with white Arabic lettering is used in different variations by jihadists groups worldwide and proclaims, "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger."
Monis made various demands using social media, relayed by the captured hostages, including a demand to speak with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.
Monis is an Iranian-born, self-proclaimed "Sheikh." Even though he was born a Shiite, he apparently embraced the extremist Sunni ideolody of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Speaking to reporters, Abbot said Monis had a "long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability."
In 2013, he pleaded guilty to sending multiple insulting letters to the families of Australian soldiers who had been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and sentenced to 300 hours of community service. One judge in the case called the letters "sadistic, wantonly cruel and deeply wounding."
That same year Monis was charged with being an accesssory to the murder of his ex-wife, who was found stabbed and burned in a stairwell of a building. He was also charged the same year with mltiple sex crimes and assault but was freed in bail.
The Iranian news agency Fars News reported that he was wanted on fraud when he left Iran in 1995.
For his part, Abbott called a meeting of the National Security Committee of his cabinet for briefings on the situation as it unfolded.
His office put out a statement on the crisis, saying: "This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner."
Monis had a following of 13,000 likes on his Facebook pafe where Abbot said, "He posted graphic, extremist matierial online."
Speaking to the media, his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis said of monis, "This is a one-off random individual. It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged-goods individual who's done something outrageous. His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness."
Watch the clip of the moment that police stormed the café in Sydney where the hostages were being held: