The tense siege of a Sydney cafe where hostages were held by a gunman for 16 hours is over, after armed police stormed the building around 2am local time.
38-year-old mother of three, Katrina Dawson has been confirmed as one of the victims, while the other individual killed has been identified as Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson.
Johnson has been hailed as a hero on social media after reports emerged that he attempted to snatch the firearm away from the hostage-taker in the final moments before police entered the cafe.
The Johnson family have released a statement to the media via 2GB Radio, thanking people all over the world for their support and condolences.
We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for. We feel heartfelt sorrow for the family of Katrina Dawson.
We’d like to thank not only our friends and loved ones for their support, but the people of Sydney; Australia and those around the world for reaching out with their thoughts and prayers. Our deepest gratitude to the NSW police, armed forces and paramedics for their tireless efforts.
We ask that the media respects our privacy in this difficult time.
Let us all pray for peace on earth.
One of the two hostages killed was reportedly shot by Monis. Police confirmed there were 17 hostages involved in the siege.
Another four people, including one officer who suffered facial wounds, have been reported injured. One woman in her 40s is confirmed in hospital in a serious but stable condition with a gunshot wound.
The 50-year-old gunman, Man Haron Monis, a self-styled “Muslim cleric and peace activist,” was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
Four of the hostages were employees of Westpac Bank.
Westpac CEO Gail Kelly said “It’s a sad day for all of Australia as we learn of the tragic loss of life following the events in Martin Place, Sydney earlier this morning. My heart goes out to anyone touched by this tragedy.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott released this statement regarding the tragic events:
Australians awoke to the news this morning that the siege in Martin Place has ended.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two deceased hostages, the wounded and the other hostages.
I commend the courage and professionalism of the New South Wales Police and other emergency services involved.
Abbott said he was briefed on developments by NSW Premier Mike Baird and NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, as well as Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The PM added that Commonwealth agencies will continue to provide every support to New South Wales authorities, while the National Security Committee of Cabinet will meet shortly to review the situation.
During a media conference earlier, Baird and Scipione told the people of Sydney to go about their “business as usual”, while commending the efforts of police and the people of NSW and Australia for their bravery and support.
“We’re Australians. We support mates, we support friends,” Baird said.
An exclusion zone was set up yesterday around Martin Place to stop pedestrians and vehicles from entering the area where the siege was taking place. This exclusion zone remains in place this morning.
In a statement today, Labor leader Bill Shorten said “the loss of two innocent people in this horrific event overnight breaks our hearts”.
“The Opposition continues to offer the Government its full support during this difficult time. The Prime Minister and I are partners when it comes to keeping Australians safe,” he said.
“What unites us is greater than what divides us.”
Australian flags are at half most atop the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and at many Commonwealth buildings around the country.
Police stormed the Lindt Cafe at Martin Place in the heart of Sydney’s business district shortly after a number of hostages managed to escape at around 2am AEDT, bringing an end to the siege which had been watched live around the world.
A shehadah flag – an expression of faith in Islam – was displayed in the window of the café soon after the gunman took control of the building.
In was has been described as an “unplanned” entry, stun grenades were thrown before police fired several shots and moved in. This is the moment as captured by nearby cameras:
Other television footage showed the cafe, which had been in darkness since just after sunset, being lit up inside by gunfire.
Just before police went in, a man had left the building with his hands in the air and shortly afterwards a group of another four hostages ran from the cafe, also with their hands raised.
Police then stormed the building and moments later TV footage showed people with injuries being led away by emergency services personnel. An officer in a blast suit and a bomb disposal robot could be seen outside the cafe.
State police soon declared the siege was over.
Earlier, a further five hostages – three men and two women – had fled the building in dramatic scenes.
The dead gunman, Monis, was well-known to police. He was on bail after being charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife last year. An Iranian refugee who arrived in Australia in 1996 and a self-styled cleric, Monis had claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy by spy agency ASIO. He was known as the “fake sheikh” and went by the name “Sheikh Haron”.
Monis had made a number of demands: he had asked for an Islamic State flag to be delivered to the café, and also wanted to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He had also asked media to declare that Australia was under attack by the Islamic State.
Senior Australian Islamic clerics condemned the siege as a “criminal act”.
The siege had put a large area of Sydney’s central business district into lockdown. After office workers evacuated the area through the day, an exclusion zone covering several city blocks was established.
Yesterday, the state premier Mike Baird encouraged people who work in the Sydney CBD exclusion zone to “work from home tomorrow”.
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