Sydney police said Monday night that three people were killed, including the gunman, during a hostage crisis that ended when officers stormed a downtown cafe.
Police said the gunman was killed in a confrontation with police early Tuesday morning, local time. They said in a statement that a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman also died. Four other people were injured.
A investigation is underway because police were involved in an incident in which people died, police said.
Earlier, a flurry of loud bangs erupted as a swarm of heavily armed police stormed a downtown Sydney cafe where a gunman had been holding an unknown number of people hostage for over 16 hours..
Police swooped into the Lindt Chocolat Cafe shortly after five or six hostages were seen running out of the building.
A female hostage was shot in the leg, a hospital official said, and earlier at least two people were wheeled out of the cafe on stretchers. A weeping woman was helped out by police.
One gurney was rolled out carrying what appeared to be a man lying under a blood-soaked sheet with a bloody handprint in the center. A woman with blood-covered feet lay on a second.
The dramatic scene unfolded shortly after the gunman was identified by local media as Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, who is facing charges including sexual assault and accessory to murder in separate cases. A police official said “you wouldn’t be wrong” in identifying the 50-year-old Monis as the gunman. Under department rules, officials do not identify themselves unless speaking at a formal news conference.
Monis had long been on officials’ radar. Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for writing offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He had been out on bail on the charges.
“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 former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Conditsis said.
Monis had fled Iran in 1996.
— Elijah J. Magnier (@ejmalrai) December 15, 2014
Throughout the incident, two people inside the cafe were seen on a rotating basis holding up a flag believed to contain an Islamic declaration of faith. Some 15 hostages taking turns standing at the window, according to Australian media reports.
The gunman had hostages call the media to make demands, which Australian police asked not be published. (References to the demands included in earlier versions of this report have been removed.)
Videos of hostages reciting demands in front of a Islamic flag were also posted online, but police asked media to not disseminate the clips. The videos seemed to indicate the demands were not being met.
As night fell, the lights in the cafe went out and hostages were huddled in one area, Australian media reported.
Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said negotiators were talking with the gunman. Officials had no information to suggest anyone had been harmed.
Burn told media that police were treating the situation as a hostage negotiation and working to conclude it peacefully. “There is speculation about what he might want but we have to deal with him at the level of police negotiation,” Burn said.
Police also said they were operating on a terror footing.
Seven Network TV news staff members watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth-floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.
The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe’s four windows. Reporter Chris Reason said he carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.
Network staff counted about 15 different faces among hostages forced up against the windows.
“The gunman seems to be sort of rotating these people through these positions on the windows with their hands and faces up against the glass,” Reason said in a report from the vantage point. “One woman we’ve counted was there for at least two hours — an extraordinary, agonizing time for her surely, having to stand on her feet for that long.”
“Just two hours ago when we saw that rush of escapees, we could see from up here in this vantage point the gunman got extremely agitated as he realized those five had got out. He started screaming orders at the people, the hostages who remain behind,” he added.
St. Vincent’s hospital spokesman David Faktor said a male hostage was in satisfactory condition in the hospital’s emergency department. He was the only one of the freed hostages to be taken to a hospital, and Scipione said he was being treated for a pre-existing condition.
The developments came hours after the 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, at about 9:45 a.m. local time.
Hundreds of police flooded into the area, streets were closed and offices evacuated after the standoff began. The public was told to stay away from Martin Place, home to the state premier’s office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away.
The lifting of the black flag raised fears that the attack was related to Islamic terror. However, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the motivation behind the incident was not yet clear, “although there are obviously some indications” it was politically motivated.
“We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, we don’t know whether this is politically motivated although obviously there are some indications that it could be,” Abbott said in a press conference in Canberra Monday, hours after the incident began.
Security was tightened around Jewish community buildings in the city in the wake of the Martin Place incident.
The Islamic State group has repeatedly urged followers to carry out attacks in countries that are part of the US-led campaign to stop the group’s advances in Iraq and Syria.
Australia has estimated about 60 of its citizens are fighting for the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.
The government has said it believes about 100 Australians are actively supporting extremist groups from within Australia, recruiting fighters and grooming suicide bomber candidates as well as providing funds and equipment.