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Sydney Siege Ends With Two Hostages And Gunman Dead


A 16-hour long hostage siege at a cafe in Sydney, Australia, ended earlier today with a dramatic, middle-of-the-night raid. Three people are confirmed dead, including the gunman. Australian police have been careful not to ascribe motives to the hostage-taker. But as we'll hear in a few minutes, the case comes as the country's been dealing with several security threats. Stuart Cohen begins our coverage from Sydney.


STUART COHEN, BYLINE: The sound of stun grenades and gunfire echoed through the empty streets of Sydney's downtown in the middle of the night, as police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the city's Martin Place. Less than a minute earlier, several hostages were seen fleeing from the building. New South Wales police commissioner, Andrew Scipione...


ANDREW SCIPIONE: I understand that there was a number of gunshots that were heard, which caused officers to move straight to what we call an EA - an emergency action plan. They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost.

COHEN: The siege started on a busy Monday morning in Sydney's financial district. The gunman walked into the popular cafe during the morning rush hour, pulling out a gun and taking 17 people hostage. The drama unfolded right across the street from one of the country's TV networks. And images of hostages standing, hands raised, in front of the windows, were quickly beamed around the world. Some of them were forced to hold up a black banner with Arabic writing, leading many to believe this was a terrorist act, including Australia's prime minister, Tony Abbott.


PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT: This is a very disturbing incident. It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.

COHEN: Sydney's Muslim leaders quickly condemned the act. Police identified the gunman as Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian refugee and self-styled cleric. He was convicted of sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas and was out on bail for a string of violent offenses, including being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. His former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australia's national broadcaster this was the act of a desperate man.


MANNY CONDITSIS: Knowing that he was on bail for very serious offenses, I thought that he may consider that he's got nothing to lose. This is a one-off, random individual. It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged-goods individual that's done something quite outrageous.

COHEN: Police say they still have much more investigating to do to clarify why and how the events unfolded. The New South Wales Premier is urging people to continue on with their normal lives. But for many Sydney residents, the shock of the hostage siege, whether a terrorism-inspired attack or just the act of a violent criminal, will leave them shaken for some time to come. For NPR News, I'm Stuart Cohen in Sydney. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stuart Cohen
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