Two were killed and seven wounded when Australian police stormed the cafe where hostages, including an Indian employee of Infosys, were taken int a whole day drama that raised eyebrows all over the world.
About 30 people were held hostage since Monday morning by an armed man who stormed the cafe in Sydney’s bustling business district — in the first terrorist attack on Australian soil.
Around 16 hours after the dramatic siege began, the Australian media identified the gunman as Iran-born cleric Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old who was 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.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who was in Sydney in November — was among the first to condemn the attack. His Australian counterpart Tony Abbott appealed for calm as a stunned world saw the hostage saga on TV.
The chilling incident, days ahead of Christmas, took place in Sydney’s central business district and barely 400 metres 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.
The anxious hostages were seen standing with their hands raised at the expansive French windows of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at Martin Place early in the morning. Their location was not known in the evening. A black and white flag, said to be a jihadi flag, was held up in one window.
Infosys identified its employee held in Sydney as Ankireddy Vishwakant, from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. He recently got Australian citizenship.
His father Ishwar Reddy said his son went to the cafe on his way to work when the gunman took him and 29 others hostage. Ishwar Reddy spoke to his daughter-in-law in Sydney for more details.
She told him that police officers assured her that the operation to secure the safe release of hostages would be over in a day. The hostage’s father said the gunman provided food to the hostages.
Infosys said it was in touch with authorities in Sydney and the Indian Consulate. Security forces took up positions soon after the gunman struck at 9.40 a.m. (4.10 a.m. IST)
Vinod Bahade, the deputy consul general in Sydney, told IANS over telephone: “Minutes after we got to know that some people at a nearby cafe have been taken hostage by a gunman, the Indian consulate was evacuated.
“We have not shut it. Work will resume once the problem is solved.” Surinder Datta, the deputy high commissioner at the Indian High Commission at Canberra, told IANS that the incident was being constantly monitored.
Five hostages fled, and their desperate dash to freedom was caught live on camera. The armed man demanded that he be provided an Islamic State (IS) flag and said he wanted to talk to Prime Minister Abbott. Possession of the IS flag is illegal in Australia.
Abbott described it a “deeply concerning incident”. Indians in Sydney prayed for a safe ending of the drama and the release of all hostages including the Indian, 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 all praying that this has a peaceful resolution,” Shanmugam said, referring to the concerns of the 350,000-strong Indian community in his city where he has lived since 1991.
“We never anticipated anything like this could happen in Sydney,” he said. In New Delhi, Modi described the incident as “disturbing”. “Such acts are inhuman and deeply unfortunate. I pray for everyone’s safety.”
The hostage taker claimed he had planted bombs in the cafe and at different locations in the city.
The three men and two women who escaped from the cafe said the man forced his captives to call him “brother” and promised to release a hostage if the IS flag was delivered.
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.(IANS)