THE ARMED SIEGE at a café in Sydney’s business district has come to an end, after police stormed the building with stun grenades and live rounds.
Officers dressed in riot gear raided the building at around 2am local time.
New South Wales Police have confirmed that the gunman has been killed along with two others. Four others were injured as part of the police assault on the café.
The 50-year-old gunman was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital, as were a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman.
Two women have been taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, while a male police officer suffered a wound to his face from gunshot pellets.
Another woman has been taken to hospital with a gunshot wound to her shoulder with another woman also hospitalised as a precaution.
The sudden ending to the 16-hour siege came after a lull in activity. Police confirmed that a total of 17 people had been taken hostage.
It had been thought police were settling in for a long operation, and the lights were turned off in the Lindt café, which is located in the busy Martin Place shopping area.
Minutes before the police assault began, a group of five hostages ran from the scene with their hands in the air (below).
They were followed by another man, dressed in a white shirt, with his sleeves rolled up.
Another woman fled from the café, before sustained fire was heard on live TV broadcasts.
Police said in a press conference that armed police decided to enter the building “as a result of gunfire inside”.
They have also confirmed that no explosives were found inside the café.
Australian Prime Minster Tony Abbott has said that, “Australians should be reassured by how our security services dealt with this brush with terrorism.”
“As the siege unfolded yesterday he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the Isil death cult,” Abbott said.
“Tragically there are people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence. The events in Martin Place also show that we are ready to deal with these people professionally with the full force of the law.”
Broadcasters in Sydney had known the identity of the gunman since early on Monday.
His name was released shortly after nightfall, as 9 News and other outlets confirmed it was 49-year-old radical Muslim cleric Sheik Man Haron Monis.
The Iranian immigrant is a well-known figure to police and to the Australian public in general, and gained media attention in the past for a hate mail campaign protesting the presence of Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Abbott seemed to confirm the widely reported identity of the gunman as by saying that the dead hostage-taker was well-known to media and to police.
Last year, Monis was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and mother of two. More recently, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault.
The charges related to time Monis allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed ‘spiritual healer’ in western Sydney more than a decade ago.
News organisations said they had been contacted by the gunman with demands, which police urged them not to broadcast.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said following the conclusion of the siege there were no indications any Irish people had been caught up in it.
Martin Place is in Sydney’s financial centre — and houses several prominent buildings, including the New South Wales parliament, the US 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.
The public office of the Irish Consulate was also closed earlier than usual, although diplomatic staff remained at the centre to monitor the situation and keep in contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, a spokesperson said.
The pre-Christmas siege of the Lindt chocolate cafe began on Monday morning, and triggered a continuing security lockdown as hundreds of armed police surrounded the site.
Early in the siege, hostages were forced to host a black Islamic banner to the window. A terrorism expert told the Sydney Morning Herald that it was not an Islamic State flag, but an older symbol that had been co-opted by jihadist groups.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott convened a national security meeting to deal with the “disturbing” development.
He said in a statement as the situation developed:
Yes, it has been a difficult day. Yes, it is a day which has tested us, but so far, like Australians in all sorts of situations, we have risen to the challenge.
US President Barack Obama was also briefed on the crisis, the White House said.
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.
Channel Seven reporter Chris Reason, whose office is opposite the cafe, tweeted:
“From inside Martin Place newsroom, we’ve counted around 15 hostages — not 50 — mix of women, men, young, old – but no children.
“We can see gunman is rotating hostages, forcing them to stand against windows, sometimes 2 hours at a time.”
More than 40 Australian Muslim groups jointly condemned the hostage-taking 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.
First published 3.40am; additional reporting by Christina Finn, Paul Hosford, Daragh Brophy and Sinead O’Carroll. Includes text from AFP.