After more than 16 hours, police say they have ended the siege of the Sydney café where a self-styled “Muslim cleric” was holding hostages.
A police spokesman confirmed “the operation is over” to Associated Press but would not release any further details. Media reports indicate that up to two people may have been killed.
Explosions were heard and armed tactical officers could be seen running into the building, live televisions broadcast in Australia show.
A loud alarm bell could be heard as more explosions detonated. It was about 2:15 a.m. local time when the operation began.
At least two people were reported to be injured. Ambulances raced to the scene and gurneys were wheeled in by paramedics. Some of the law-enforcement officers at the scene wore heavy protective outfits of bomb-disposal technicians.
Two officers came out carrying in their arms a woman in a blue blazer who appeared distraught.
The woman appeared to be one of the hostages who had to record a video outlining the suspect’s demands.
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The suspect was identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee known for sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas and facing several charges ofsexual assault, a police source said.
He was born a Shia but had recently converted to Sunni Islam and it’s thought he had pledged allegiance to ISIS. Several reports describe him as “mentally unhinged.”
Monis was charged last year with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife who was stabbed and set alight in a Sydney apartment block.
He was found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, as a protest against Australia’s involvement in the conflict, according to local media reports.
Earlier this year, Monis, who describes himself as a “spiritual healer,” was charged with the indecent and sexual assault of a Sydney woman in 2002. Further charges were laid in
“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.”
Monis’s website shows graphic images of children that the website says were killed by U.S. and Australian airstrikes, as well as media coverage following Monis’s court appearances and statements addressed to the Muslim community and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Local media reported his age at 49 or 50.
Earlier in the day, network staff counted about 15 different faces among hostages forced up against the windows.
Dozens of armed police surrounded the café after the siege began around 9:45 a.m. (5:45 p.m. (ET) on Sunday). The area is home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales state parliament.
Three videos surfaced online purporting to be from hostages inside the café, but were later removed from YouTube. The people shown in the videos stated that the hostage-takers had planted bombs in the area, and were demanding to speak with the Prime Minister and be given an Islamic State flag. The authenticity of the videos could not be verified.
Channel 10 news said it received a video in which a hostage inside the café had relayed the gunman’s demands. The station said police requested they not broadcast it, and Andrew Scipione, police commissioner for the state of New South Wales, separately asked all media that might be contacted by the gunman to urge him instead to talk to police.