SYDNEY –Australian security forces on Tuesday stormed the Sydney cafe where several hostages were being held at gunpoint, in what looked like the dramatic denouement to a standoff that had dragged on for more than 16 hours.
Heavy gunfire and loud bangs rang out shortly after 2 a.m. local time (10a.m. ET on Monday), and moments earlier at least six people believed to have been held captive had managed to flee the scene.
Medics moved in and took away several injured people on stretchers, but it was not clear whether they included the gunman who had been named by a police source only minutes earlier.
He was identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh facing multiple charges of sexual assault.
He was also 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.
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During the siege, hostages had been forced to display an Islamic flag, igniting fears of a jihadist attack.
“There’s no operational reason for that name to be held back by us now,” said a police source, who declined to be identified, when asked to confirm reports the hostage taker was Monis.
At least five hostages were released or escaped on Monday, with terrified cafe workers and customers running into the arms of paramilitary police.
A further 15 or so hostages were understood to have been holed up inside the cafe, said Chris Reason, a reporter at Channel Seven, whose office is opposite the cafe.