Sydney (IANS): Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot Wednesday announced an inquiry into the Sydney hostage crisis that left three people, including the hostage-taker, dead, media reported.
The inquiry will be conducted by federal and New South Wales (NSW) officials who would report back by the end of January and would focus on how the perpetrator, Man Haron Monis, evaded authorities, The Canberra Times reported.
Monis had a history of violence and was well known to state and federal police and the domestic spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The police will inquire how Monis got permanent residency in Australia, why he was receiving welfare payments, how he got a gun licence, why he was allowed out into the community on bail and why he had fallen off the terror watch list in 2009.
Prime Minister Abbott said he would “not rest” until he was confident that Australians were as safe as the government could make them.
He said there was “incredulity” in the national security committee of the cabinet when it was briefed on the details of Monis’s life.
Monis moved to Australia from Iran in 1996 and received political asylum in 2001.
Canberra (IANS): Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed Tuesday that the gunman at the centre of the Sydney siege, in which two hostages were shot dead, was known to the federal police and had an “infatuation with extremism”.
Abbott described the hostage drama, which brought central Sydney to a standstill, as a “brush with terrorism”.
While there remains confusion regarding the motivations behind the attack, Abbott suggested the perpetrator, named as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, sought to “cloak his actions” with certain Islamic State terror groups.
Addressing the media in his first press conference since the conclusion of the dramatic 16-hour siege, Abbott confirmed that Monis took 17 hostages, with two of them, and the gunman, dying at the scene.
“Early this morning the Martin Place siege ended with the death of the lone gunman and, tragically, the loss of two hostages, innocent Australians caught up in the horror of yesterday (Monday),” Xinhua quoted Abbott as saying Tuesday.
“Five other people, four hostages and a NSW police officer, were injured. State and Commonwealth agencies are investigating. “Understandably, there is lot of speculation, but it will take time to clarify exactly what happened in Martin Place and why”.
Police stormed the cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place just after 2 a.m.
Although it is not yet known to state authorities what the motivations behind the attack were, Abbott revealed links to Islamic State groups and that the gunman had a long history with violent crime.
Monis, an Iranian cleric, was on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as facing more than 40 charges of sexual assault. He had previously been convicted for sending offensive letters to families of deceased Australian soldiers.
“What we do know is that the perpetrator was well known to state and Commonwealth authorities,” Abbott added.
“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability. We know that he sent offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and was found guilty of offences related to this. We also know that he posted graphic extremist material online.
“As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the IS death cult. Tragically, there are people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence,” the Australian prime minister said.
Abbott thanked authorities for their tireless work throughout the day and night. “I want to thank the New South Wales (NSW) Police and all the other agencies involved for their professionalism and courage,” Abbott said.
Abbott also praised the resilience of Australians, saying the response to the tragedy proves their readiness to react to such incidents.
“These events do demonstrate that even a country as free, as open, as generous and as safe as ours is vulnerable to acts of politically motivated violence but they also remind us that Australia and Australians are resilient and we are ready to respond.”
“Now, I do intend to go to Sydney early in the afternoon to be further briefed by NSW police and other security agencies. I also intend to say thank you as best I can in person to NSW Police officers and others involved in this appalling incident,” Prime Minister Abbott said.
Sydney (IANS): A 16-hour hostage crisis — the first terror attack in Australia — ended early Tuesday after police stormed a cafe in the heart of Sydney where an Iran-born cleric took some 30 people hostage and made several demands, sending shockwaves across the country.
As police stormed Lindt Chocolate Cafe using flash grenades and firing dozens of gunshots, several hostages — panic writ large on their faces — fled with their hands raised past advancing heavily armed policemen.
One of them was Ankireddy Vishwakant, an employee of software major Infosys who hailed from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh and was recently granted Australian citizenship.
“Thank God! This is a big relief for us,” said Ankireddy’s father Ishwar Reddy at his house in Guntur town, about 300 km from Hyderabad.
Media reports identified the second Indian as Pushpendu Ghosh.
[New South Wales police in a press statement said: “About 2.10 a.m. (Tuesday 16 December), a confrontation occurred between police and a man who had taken a number of people hostage inside a café on Martin Place. Shots were fired during the confrontation. As a result, the 50-year-old man was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital. Another man, aged 34, and a woman, aged 38, were pronounced dead after being taken to hospital. Two women have been taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, while a male police officer suffered a non-life threatening wound to his face from gunshot pellets and was taken to hospital. Another woman has been taken to hospital with a gunshot wound to her shoulder. A 35-year-old woman was taken to hospital as a precaution.”]
The hostage taker, Man Haron Monis was a 50-year-old who had been granted asylum in Australia in 1996.
TV clips showed him as a bearded man with a white headgear who had been previously charged with sexually attacking seven women and trying to kill his former wife.
“Yes, yes, he has escaped. It is good news,” an elated Deputy Consul General in Sydney Vinod Bahade told IANS over the telephone, referring to Vishwakant. “Yes, it is over,” he said of the hostage crisis.
The Indian government confirmed that two Indians had been held hostage and both had survived the ordeal.
The police operation followed several hours of tense suspense when Australians remained glued to televisions, and the Indian community in all Australian cities prayed for the safe release of the hostages.
Police had told Vishwakant’s wife in Sydney that they hoped to end the hostage crisis – which happened just before Christmas – within a day. They kept their word.
The dramatic police operation began suddenly around 2.30 a.m., with three bangs followed by dozens of gunfire shots.
Within minutes, several hostages were carried away on stretchers by police personnel and para-medics.
Police officers then told the Sydney Morning Herald that the siege was over.
The chilling incident took place in Sydney’s central business district and barely 400 meters from the Indian Consulate, which was promptly evacuated.
Also located in the vicinity are the offices of India Tourism, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and New India Insurance.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who was in Sydney in November – was among the first to condemn the attack.
“Such acts are inhuman and deeply unfortunate. I pray for everyone’s safety.”
Modi’s Australian counterpart Tony Abbott appealed for calm.
The anxious hostages were earlier seen standing with their hands raised at the expansive French windows of Lindt Chocolate Cafe at Martin Place.
A black and white apparently jihadi flag was held up in one window.
Indian diplomat Bahade said that soon after the hostage crisis began, the Indian consulate was evacuated.
“We have not shut it. Work will resume once the problem is solved.”
Five hostages fled in the early part of the saga, and their desperate dash to freedom was caught live on camera.
The armed man demanded an Islamic State (IS) flag and said he wanted to talk to Prime Minister Abbott. Possession of the IS flag is illegal in Australia.
Like Australians, Indians in Sydney were a worried lot, an Indian businessman there told IANS.
Sri Shanmugam, 56, said in a telephonic interview that fewer Australians were on the streets in Sydney, and there had been a noticeable fall in the customers who usually throng his two restaurants.
“We are all shocked. We are praying that this has a peaceful resolution,” he said, referring to the concerns of the 350,000-strong Indian community in Sydney where he has lived since 1991.
The hostage taker claimed he had planted bombs in the cafe and elsewhere in the city.
The three men and two women who escaped from the cafe said the man forced his captives to call him “brother”.
Nearby streets were cordoned off. Train services were shut down nearby.
Police also evacuated the nearby Sydney Opera House and shut down traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.