Standoff and Hostages at Sydney Cafe

[Content Note: Hostage-taking; terrorism; religious extremism.]

Yesterday, a presumed Muslim extremist carrying a black flag with white Arabic script took hostages at a popular Sydney cafe, and, although some hostages have escaped (or were released), the situation continues:
The assailant walked into the Lindt Chocolate Café, at the top of Sydney's Martin Place in the city center, at around 9:45 a.m., the police said, locking the door and capturing an unknown number of cafe workers and customers. The cafe is as much a regular coffee stop for local office workers as it is a tourist draw.

Helicopters hovered over the city, the train network was temporarily stopped and strategic buildings — including the nearby Sydney Opera House, the New South Wales Parliament, the state library, law courts and the Reserve Bank — were evacuated or shut down. Traffic on part of Sydney's iconic Harbor Bridge was stopped.

Five people, including two cafe employees, had fled by 7 p.m., but it was not clear whether the assailant had allowed them to leave or they had escaped.

The police released very little information about the scene inside the cafe or the suspect's motives, though they were treating the siege as they would an act of terrorism.

...Soon after the siege began, a commercial television network, Channel Seven, which has a nearby studio, showed footage of people, one wearing the Lindt Café uniform, pressed against the cafe window, holding up the black flag with white script.

The message, though not entirely visible, appeared to be the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith.

The New South Wales deputy police commissioner, Catherine Burn, said that the police had made contact with the armed person inside the cafe, and that they were working to resolve the standoff "peacefully."

"Nobody has been harmed or injured at the moment," she said. "We have been working through our negotiations to try to make sure that people inside" have "what they need so that they don't become ill or injured."
This is obviously a horrible situation, which is eliciting the usual anti-Muslim rhetoric, and many non-Muslim Australians are already taking action, using the hashtag #illridewithyou, to try to make sure there are no violent reprisals against the nation's Muslim population, because of one person's (or one group's) actions.
Instead Australian Twitter users offered to accompany Muslims wearing religious clothes on public transport as a gesture of solidarity under the hashtag #illridewithyou.

The campaign started with a tweet from @sirtessa, a TV content editor and writer from Sydney whose real name is Tessa Kum. "If you reg take #373 bus b/w Cogee/Martin Pl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule," she wrote.

Kum told BuzzFeed News that "her heart broke" after reading a story tweeted by Rachael Jacobs as news of the hostage siege broke.

Jacobs had tweeted that "....and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab ... I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u'. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute - then walked off alone."

Kum added: "It is hard to feel hope when you feel helpless. #illwalkwithyou is a small act, but might be important for someone one day ... For those of us watching; we live in this world. We aren't bystanders. We aren't helpless."
Australia's 9 News has live coverage of the hostage situation here. My thoughts are with you, Australia.

UPDATE: Police have entered the site, and there have been reports of gunfire. Several people have been taken from the scene on stretchers.

UPDATE 2: Reports are that the hostage-taker has been identified. I will withhold publishing the name until it is confirmed by officials. However, if he is indeed who he is currently believed to be, he has been charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife as well as more than 50 allegations of sexual assault.

UPDATE 3: Police have confirmed the assailants' name to the Guardian, and said there's no reason not to release it. His name is Man Haron Monis, and he has a history of violence.

UPDATE 4: Australian police have confirmed that the assailant is dead, along with two of his hostages. "New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that the decision to enter the premises came after they heard gunshots coming from inside. Scipione also confirmed that, in total, Monis had been holding 17 people hostage, though up to 12 of those individuals had been able to get out of the store before police began their assault. Scipione and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said that Monis was a 'lone gunman' and no explosives had been found in the area surrounding the Lindt Chocolat Cafe."

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