Jewish schools across Australia sent students home in the wake of an ongoing hostage crisis in a Sydney cafe Monday morning, where at least one gunman took multiple people captive in an apparent politically motivated attack.
Jewish institutions across the country were “in lockdown” Monday, canceling excursions and maintaining strict security measures, according to the Australian officials.
A secretary from one of Sydney’s largest Jewish day schools told The Times of Israel that pupils were discharged home for the afternoon as a precautionary measure. She spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to comment and asked to keep the name of the school under wraps as well over security fears.
Likewise in Melbourne, Jewish schools sent their students home, tightening security measures while leaving small cadres of teachers and staff on school grounds.
The lockdown is “only temporary” and schools are expected to resume functioning normally in the coming days, according to staff member at one of Melbourne’s Jewish days schools, who spoke on condition of anonymity and also asked not to publish the name of the school.
“It’s a precautionary measure. We are not alarmed,” she said.
#BREAKING: Jewish institutions across Australia, including schools, are in lockdown, cancelling excursions and…
The incident began at about 9:45 a.m. Sydney time as a gunman entered the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year.
While police have refused to say what the gunman’s motivation might be, two hostages inside the cafe were seen being forced to hold up a black flag containing the Islamic declaration of faith used by some extremist groups, leading to fears the incident was an Islamist terror attack.
The Jewish community is “in a level of extreme alert” and is viewing the unfolding crisis with caution, said Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies — the umbrella group representing Jewish organizations across NSW.
“We share enormous concern with all Australians in regards to what is taking place” he told The Times of Israel, and added that the Jewish community stands in solidarity with the victims of the cafe attack.
“It is still unclear which organization is responsible. Never before has it happened in Australia that over 30 people have been held hostage at gunpoint,” he said.
Thoughts to the families of the hostages. #sydneysiege
— Vic Alhadeff (@VicAlhadeff) December 15, 2014
Jewish Community Security Group, CSG, instructed selected Jewish institutions to bolster security and deployed additional resources in response to Monday’s incident.
Jewish-owned businesses were told to operate normally, albeit with higher awareness and attention.
Australia’s Jewish population numbers over 100,000, almost evenly split between Melbourne and Sydney, with smaller Jewish communities scattered across the country.