December 15, 2014 3:18 pm
Updated: December 15, 2014 7:41 pm

What flag was raised during Sydney hostage taking?

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WATCH ABOVE: After more than 16 harrowing hours, the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia has come to an end. Sean Mallen reports.

TORONTO – One of the first things the gunman did during a tense standoff at a Sydney cafe Monday morning was force two hostages to raise an Islamic flag, but what is the significance?

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.

At first glance, it was believed the flag was that of the Islamic State (ISIS), but it wasn’t. It is actually a commonly used flag.

This image taken from video shows people holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it, inside a cafe in Sydney, Australia Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. An apparent hostage situation was unfolding inside the chocolate shop and cafe in Australia’s largest city on Monday, where several people could be seen through a window with their hands held in the air.

AP Photo/Channel 7 via AP Video

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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.

According to an expert from UN Alliance of Civilizations, the flag more of a creed to the Islamic faith.

“You can purchase it anywhere. It has no politically dominant or ideological meaning,” Aftab Malik told The Guardian. “It only has a spiritual meaning.”

The suspect has been identified as a 50-year-old 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 in Afghanistan.

During the standoff, Monis reportedly demanded an ISIS flag, but was denied.

University lecturer Ben MacQueen explained to the Sydney Morning Herald that the flag displayed was similar to the Islamic State flag used in the 1990s.

Demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) during a in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014.

Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

“[The flag looked] like the black banner which was used in the 1990s – it is not the Islamic State flag per se – it has been used in recent times, for example, by Chechen groups,” MacQueen told the Herald.

“A lot of Islamic states have used the black. In Afghanistan at the turn of the 20th century for example, they had just a black flag.”

MacQueen said the hostage taker (Monis) got his hands on a “bit of paraphernalia to suggest” he has aligned with ISIS.

with a file from The Associated Press

© 2014 Shaw Media

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