The world was introduced to "terrorism 2.0" in Australia yesterday as an Islamist extremist attempted to use hostages and the international media to further his demands.
As the 16-hour siege at the Lindt Chocolat Café in Sydney’s city centre was followed across the world, the hostage-taker Man Haron Monis, an Iranian self-styled cleric, tried to use social media to extend his messages and demands.
Audio recordings of the hostages were released after an initial attempt by Monis, 50, to have his messages broadcast by Australian media.
When that failed to elicit a response, four YouTube videos appeared online apparently framed, filmed and uploaded by his hostages.
By lunchtime in Britain, four videos were viewable, each containing short, desperate messages from those inside. Standing in front of a black Islamist flag and the Lindt café logo, each laid out their kidnappers’ list of demands. They included the delivery of an Isis flag; a blanket broadcast from the media stating that the siege was an Islamic State attack on Australia and a conversation with Prime Minister Tony Abbott via a “live feed” in return for some hostages. One hostage questioned why the demands appeared so difficult to meet adding: “Our Isis brother has been very kind to us.”
Police had advised that broadcasting the vidoes while the siege was ongoing could interfere with operational procedures. Within less than 30 minutes, the videos had been removed from YouTube and the account, which had appeared under the username “Joel Herat” had been shut down.
Meanwhile text messages were sent from inside the cafe in Martin Place, a broad pedestrian plaza. One young apprentice plumber texted his mother to tell her he was being held captive. “My heart stopped, I sent back a text message: ‘What is going on? Are you OK?,” the frantic mother told 2GB radio station. “I’m OK Mum, can’t talk,” he replied.
Until 2.11am, Australian police – and everyone else – had hoped the hostage crisis might end without bloodshed. Then gunshots rang out from inside the cafe. After the police Swat teams had stormed in, shot dead Monis, and rescued those who remained inside, the toll was clear. Two hostages, a 34-year-old man and a woman aged 38, were dead, and four were injured. A police officer had been shot in the face. The deceased pair have since been named as Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
A sombre-faced Andrew Scipione, the New South Wales Police Commissioner, told a press conference that police were forced to take action because “they believed that … [otherwise] there would have been many more lives lost”.
Standing beside him, Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales, was visibly emotional. “In the past 24 hours this city has been shaken by a tragedy that none of us could have ever imagined,” he said.
Martin Place was thronged with people when, at about 9.45am yesterday, Monis walked into the cafe carrying a blue sports bag and produced a sawn-off shotgun.
Terror in Sydney: how the siege unfolded
Terror in Sydney: how the siege unfolded
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city
Two hostages appear at the window holding a black flag with white Arabic script
Three men escape from the cafe's fire exit and run toward police
The first of two women sprint from the same side door and run into the arms of police
At least five more hostages flee the scene of the siege and sprint into the waiting arms of police - the first movement for nine hours
Armed police storm the cafe amid a frenzy of gunfire
NSW Police confirm the incident has concluded. They tweet: “Sydney siege is over.”
Bruno – he only gave his first name – was a bit late for work. Trying to open Lindt’s plate-glass door, he found it locked. “Which is pretty weird, because it’s never locked, and there was one guy walking around with a hat and a beard,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The “guy” was Monis, an Islamic preacher and self-styled “spiritual healer” who was convicted last year of sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. More recently, he faced charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and of sexually assaulting numerous women. The burly and bearded who yesterday was wearing a headband covered in Arabic script, was on bail.
Channel Seven, one of the main TV networks, is based right opposite the Lindt Café. “We raced to the window and saw the shocking and chilling sight of people putting their hands up against the panes of glass,” recounted a Seven producer, Patrick Byrne.
Monis was making the hostages stand in front of the windows, with their arms raised. Then “gasps went through the newsroom”, said Mr Byrne, as a black flag covered in white Arabic script appeared. Held up by two hostages, it bore the words of the Shahada, a testament of Muslim faith.
Five hostages managed to get out in the afternoon. As the shooting began, or perhaps just before, another seven hostages ran out of the café, some with their arms raised. According to some reports, the seven made a dash for it when Monis – also known as Sheikh Haron, but disowned by Sydney’s Muslim community leaders – fell asleep. Photographs and TV footage showed one woman being carried out of the building and two others being helped out by police and paramedics.
Security agencies have been warning for months of the risk posed by Australians returning home radicalised after fighting with Isis, which has styled itself Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria. (Monis was not among them however.) Tough new anti-terror laws have been passed.
In September, anti-terror raids across the country were said to have foiled a plot to seize a member of the public and behead them – in Martin Place, chillingly – then post the video online.
Yesterday, the hours dragged slowly until about 4pm, when two men ran out of the café’s front door and a third man in a Lindt apron ran out of a side door. Then, about an hour later, two female café workers ran out, looking distraught – straight into the arms of the body-armoured officers. Those left inside, according to a Channel Seven reporter, Chris Reason, were being “rotated” by Monis – forced “to stand against windows, sometimes two hours at a time”. Perhaps they were being used as human shields.
From his vantage-point, Mr Reason could “see the faces of hostages – pained, strained, eyes red and raw”, he tweeted. One female hostage, apparently trying to communicate with police, was filmed drawing her finger across her throat. Other witnesses said those inside looked “exhausted” and “absolutely terrified”.
“I can think of almost nothing more distressing, more terrifying, than to be caught up in such a situation,” said the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, echoing what many felt. A coalition of Australian Muslim groups expressed their “utter shock and horror”.
This morning the injured are in hospital and Sydney is shaking itself with disbelief. As one city café owner, Chris Dion, said yesterday: “We live in a beautiful country and this is happening right here in Sydney? Who could believe that’s happening here?”
While a chocolate shop seems an unlikely setting for a terrorist siege, Monis could hardly have chosen a more high-profile location. Martin Place is home to the Reserve Bank of Australia and the national headquarters of two of Australia’s biggest banks. The New South Wales parliament is around the corner,Reuse content