While you were sleeping last night, a hostage crisis unfolded in the city center of Sydney, Australia. At 9:45am Australian time, during the Monday morning rush, an armed gunman took a number of staff and customers hostage at the Lindt Chocolate cafe in Martin Place. (You might recognize the plaza, which is the heart of Sydney’s financial district, from the scene in The Matrix where Neo spots a woman in a red dress among the suits.)
The area around the cafe was immediately cordoned off, nearby buildings were evacuated and the Martin Place train station was closed. (Landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge were also shut down.) The siege lasted until around 2am when armed police stormed the cafe, firing shots and throwing flash bombs. After the operation, the police tweeted the following:
At a press conference, the police reported that two hostages were killed as well as the gunman. He has been identified as Man Haron Monis, a 50-year old Iranian refugee who received political asylum in Australia in 1996. The self-styled Muslim cleric was on bail having formerly been charged with a number of offenses, including sending hate mail to the families of fallen Australian soldiers.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) December 15, 2014
During the siege, a black Shahada flag was held up in the cafe window. The flag represents a general expression of faith in Islam, though has been co-opted by various jihadist groups, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The siege was condemned by Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, as well as Australia’s Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad.
Also making news is the trending Twitter hashtag #illridewithyou, in which Australians are volunteering to accompany Muslim commuters to work in case they don’t feel safe, as well as Uber’s surge pricing during the siege while people were rushing to leave the city center.