Sydney siege: Armed police storm Lindt Cafe, rescue Indian among others

Sydney siege: Armed police storm Lindt Cafe, rescue Indian among others

Heavily-armed police tonight stormed a popular Sydney cafe where a gunman of Iranian-origin had been holding about 15 people, including an Indian Infosys IT professional, ending an over 16-hour hostage drama.

"Sydney siege is over," New South Wales police tweeted minutes after loud bangs were heard as police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in downtown Sydney.

A police spokesman confirmed "the operation is over" but did not release further details.
Five to six hostages, including the Indian techie, were seen running out of the eatery. One weeping woman could be seen being carried out by the officers and at least two other people were wheeled out on stretchers.

Media reports said two were killed and three others seriously injured in the raid but police said they cannot confirm the casualties.

The siege began after 9 AM local time and the gunman was identified by local media as Haron Monis, who was granted political asylum in Australia.

The 50-year-old was described by his former lawyer as an isolated figure, who was acting alone.

The gunman, who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996, achieved notoriety after he sent letters to the families of Australian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, accusing them of being murderers.

In November last year, he was charged with being an accessory before and after the murder of his ex-wife, who was allegedly stabbed and set alight in her apartment complex. In March, he was charged with sexually and indecently assaulting a young woman in 2002.

The Indian man held hostage had been identified as Vishwakant Ankireddy, in his mid-30s. He has been working in Australia for the past seven years and is a native of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.

He was at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, the heart of Sydney's business district, when the gunman entered the cafe and took the people inside hostage in Australia's largest city.

Although the Indian cricket team is currently in Brisbane, some 700 kms away from Sydney security around them has also been significantly beefed up in the wake of the hostage crisis in Sydney.

Australian authorities have conveyed to the Indian government that the team's security has been enhanced.

Soon after the hostage-taking incident, authorities sealed off surrounding streets, evacuated people from buildings, and suspended rail services in the capital of New South Wales (NSW).

NSW Police activated Task Force Pioneer, which they use in terrorism related incidents, to handle the pre-Christmas incident.

Police allege that Monis was a self-proclaimed "spiritual healer" who operated out of premises on Station Street at Wentworthville.

It is alleged that Monis placed ads in local newspapers offering "spiritual consultation". He claimed to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic.

Martin Place -- a public pedestrian thoroughfare through the heart of the city, joining its parliamentary, legal and retail districts -- Sydney Opera House, State Library, US consulate and all court houses here were evacuated.

Earlier, Bengaluru-headquartered Infosys said one of its employees is among the hostages at the cafe.

"We can confirm that one Infosys employee is among the hostages at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney," the company said in a statement without naming the person.

"We are also in the process of confirming the whereabouts of all our other employees in the city. We are in constant touch with the local authorities and Indian consulate in Sydney for updates on the situation on ground," Infosys said.

Just over five hours into the siege, five people, including a woman, were seen running out of the cafe. Two came out through the front door and one through the fire escape.

During the siege, television footage showed people inside the cafe with their hands pressed against the window holding the black flag with Arabic script known as Shahadah, a prayer spoken in mosques daily. The flag displayed was not one specific to the Islamic State terror group, reports said.

The government said there was no clear motivation but the flag appeared to be one commonly used by jihadist groups.

"There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is his messenger" was written on the black flag.
The gunman was described as wearing a black vest.

The Indian consulate in Sydney was locked down and evacuated as a security measure following the incident.

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