WATCH: A self-styled Islamic cleric took a group of people hostage over the past day and a half at a cafe, causing terror and panic in Australia’s biggest city. Mike Drolet has the details of the attack and how the police responded.
TORONTO – A 16-hour standoff ended Tuesday, after police stormed a Sydney café, resulting in the death of a gunman who had been holding 17 people hostage. Police said two other people were killed, and four were injured during the police operation.
“Shots were fired during the confrontation,” said police in a release. “As a result, the 50-year-old man was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.”
The suspect has been identified as Iranian resident Man Haron Monis by several media outlets. Reports suggest the man has a criminal past, including having been charged with accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and a separate sexual assault conviction. He also reportedly has a record of sending hate letters to families of Australian soldiers killed overseas.
In a press conference Tuesday morning, police said there was still “much to be done” in the investigation, and only provided limited details on the incident.
“As a result of exchange of gunfire inside that premises, police moved in,” said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. “Until we were involved in this emergency action, we believe that no one had been injured. That changed. We changed our tactic.”
WATCH: New video showing the police storming into the cafe to end hostage siege
Scipione added the hostages are now being “well cared for.” He emphasized the attack was an isolated incident, and the “act of an individual.”
Police said a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman were pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
One of the victims was Sydney lawyer and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson.
“Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends,” Jane Needham, president of the New South Wales Bar Association, said in a statement.
Two other women were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and a third was taken to hospital with a gunshot wound to her shoulder. A male police officer suffered a non-life threatening wound to his face from gunshot pellets and was taken to hospital along with a 35-year-old woman who was taken to hospital as a precaution.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Monday afternoon condemning the hostage situation that unfolded in Sydney.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the hostages who perished in Sydney. We also offer prayers that those injured have a speedy recovery,” Harper said. “While Canada mourns with the people of Australia, we are also outraged by this barbaric act of depravity on innocent civilians who were merely going about their daily routine.”
How the standoff unfolded
On Monday, police responded to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place, just before 10 a.m. after an initial report of a robbery in progress.
A short time later, local television began to broadcast images of what appeared to be hostages inside the cafe. Several people were seen pressed against the windows. Two people were holding a black flag with Arabic script written in white.
The script, known as a Shahada, translates as “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” It is considered the first of Islam’s five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.
Police locked down the area in and around the cafe, and several buildings were evacuated.
Around 12:30 p.m., Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the suspect had “political motivation” but made no reference to terrorism. One terrorism expert said the situation appeared to be that of a “lone wolf” making his own demands, rather than an attack orchestrated by a foreign jihadist group.
Nearly six hours into the siege, three men first managed to flee from the building at the heart of the hostage crisis. About an hour and half later, two women, both employees of the shop ran out.
Earlier, Lindt Australia issued a Facebook message expressing its concern and thanked the public for its support.
“We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families,” the statement said.