Police in Sydney, Australia, have raided the downtown Lindt cafe where a man named Man Haron Monis had taken over a dozen people hostage, ending a siege that had lasted for over 16 hours. Gunfire was reported; three people, including Monis, died, and four were injured. The hostage-taker Monis is an Iranian-Australian with a bizarre criminal record but no know connection to extremist groups. Here's what we do and don't know about this situation.
What we know about hostage-taker "Sheikh" Man Haron Monis
— Monis entered the Lindt cafe on Monday morning (Sunday evening U.S. time) carrying a sawed-off shotgun and wearing a bandana inscribed with Arabic writing. He took all of the occupants hostage.
— Monis moved to Australia as a refugee, from Iran, in 1996. He has no known connections to extremist groups but a substantial criminal record. He is a self-styled sheikh and self-employed spiritual adviser and astrologer.
— Monis was charged in 2013 as an accessory before and after the fact to his ex-wife's brutal murder; she was stabbed and set on fire. He was also charged in 2002 for sexual assault.
— Monis previously achieved minor infamy in Australia for sending letters to the families of soldiers who had died fighting in Afghanistan, telling the families that their loved ones were murderers. He sent a similar letter to the family of an Australian trade official killed in a Jakarta hotel bombing.
— During the hostage crisis, Monis demanded a platform for his views. This has allegedly included having hostages call a local radio host to request air time.
— He was previously a Shia Muslim, as are most Iranians, but later converted to Sunni Islam and changed his name from Mohammad Hassan Manteghi Bourjerdi to Man Haron Monis.
— Monis' bizarre personal website, which went offline shortly after his name was released, included a condemnation of "the terrorism of America." We have preserved a copy of the website here.
What we know about the hostage situation
— Police raided the Lindt cafe at about 2:30 AM Sunday local time (10:30am Monday US east coast time) and have ended the hostage crisis. Monis and two others died (a 34 year-old man and 38 year-old woman, per the AP) during the confrontation. Four other unidentified people were injured.
For those who don't know Sydney, red dot where Lindt Cafe hostage situation taking place... dozens of people inside pic.twitter.com/q7V5TbscSn— Let it Di Stefasnow (@MarkDiStef) December 14, 2014
— Before the raid, New South Wales deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn confirmed that police were in contact with the hostage taker and have begun the process of negotiations.
— Also before the raid, at least five hostages fled the cafe; police say they had escaped. At first, three hostages emerged: two came out the front door, and one out a side door.
— Later, two more women escaped or were released via a side door. Nine News Sydney posted this photo of one of the women running from the cafe.
— The hostages were seen holding up a black flag with Arabic script. The flag is not, as has been reported, the ISIS flag. The Guardian is reporting that it bears the Shahada, the Islamic creed: "There is no god but the God, Muhammad is the messenger of God."
Sydney Australia: Not technically ISIS flag but Shahadah flag with Islamic creed on it. Commonly used by militants: pic.twitter.com/s7kg2wSrlQ— Mubin Shaikh (@CaliphateCop) December 14, 2014
This is The Islamic State flag, not the one in the window in Sydney. pic.twitter.com/PV3UNuGCms— Aaron Y. Zelin (@azelin) December 14, 2014
— One of the hostages, apparently under orders from the hostage-takers, allegedly called local radio host Ray Hadley while he was broadcasting (reports conflict on whether police have confirmed the call's authenticity). According to Hadley, the hostage-taker claimed to have "devices all over the city" and demanded to "speak with the prime minister live on radio." Hadley went off the air to continue speaking to the hostage. Here are some details from his call, in which the hostage-taker allegedly demanded that the hostage be allowed to speak live on the air:
HADLEY confirms he is speaking to a hostage inside the cafe. He says the gunman is listening to multiple radio stations inside the cafe.— Paul Murray (@PMOnAir) December 15, 2014
HADLEY says the gunman wanted the hostage to talk LIVE on the air. Hadley says he will not do that because he is not a trained negotiator.— Paul Murray (@PMOnAir) December 15, 2014
HADLEY has been asked to call the mans phone again at 1:30pm. He says he could hear the gunman yelling orders to the hostage.— Paul Murray (@PMOnAir) December 15, 2014
— New South Wales police chief Andrew Scipione was asked to confirm the Hadley phone call and said he was not in a position to comment on it.
— The Sydney Opera house has been evacuated as well, according to the New Zealand Herald. The Australian reports that it was evacuated in response to a suspicious package. Several other buildings in the area have also been evacuated, as have the US and Indian consulates.
— Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave a brief televised address shortly before 1 PM local time. He said that the hostage-takers' motivation was still unknown, and urged Australians to continue their normal lives as much as possible: "The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open, and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that's why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual."
What we don't know
— Whether or how the situation at the Opera House was linked to the Lindt siege.
— What Monis's real motivation was for the attack.
The Australian: Martin Place siege: Sydney CBD cafe workers held up
The Sydney Morning Herald: Lindt Chocolat Cafe hostage drama in Martin Place, Sydney