_A gunman who associated himself with the Islamic State__ took several hostages in a siege at a coffee shop in the heart of Sydney, Australia. The cafe was then raided by police, and three people are now confirmed dead. VICE News brings you the latest developments as they happen. _Read VICE News' full story here.
07.00 local time (14.00 ET)
NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione said in a press conference that police entered the cafe after gunshots were fired.
He confirmed that there were 17 hostages in the cafe. Two hostages and the gunman were killed. Several more people were injured, along with a male police officer who received a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to the face.
Scipione said that more information would emerge, but "we will not compromise this investigation. It's important that we get this right. When it's accurate, and only when it's accurate, we will release."
In the same press conference, NSW premier Mike Baird said: "We will do everything possible to ensure that nothing happens again like it did in the last 24 hours."
"Today we must come together like never before. We are strong together. We will get through this. We will get through this."
06.42 local time (13.42 ET)
The New South Wales Police Force have confirmed that three people are dead and four injured after an operation in which the police stormed the Lindt coffee shop in Martin Place.
In a statement, they said that at "about 2.10am (Tuesday 16 December), a confrontation occurred between police and a man who had taken a number of people hostage inside a cafe 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 police said the operation had concluded, but an investigation would now be launched. They also made an appeal for witnesses to get in contact with them.
05.50 local time (12.50 ET)
As of 5.50am local time, here is what we currently know about the last few hours:
At approximately 2:00am local time heavily armed Australian police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, ending a terrifying 16-hour siege.
Loud explosions, gunfire, and yelling could be heard from outside the cafe as police entered the building where a gunman had been holding civilians hostage.
Shortly after, paramedic crews were seen carrying people out of the building on stretchers, with hostages being rushed to nearby hospitals for treatment.
There are reports that two people have been killed, among them the man at the centre of the siege and self-styled Sheikh, Man Maron Monis.
Authorities are yet to confirm the status of the hostages or the gunman.
The police are expected to address the media with clarification at 5:00am (Australian Eastern Standard Time).
04.30 local time (12.30 ET)
Local Australian media are reporting that there will be a police press conference at 5am, which Mike Baird — premier of New South Wales and Manly — will also speak at.
03.55 local time (11.55 ET)
Australian TV Channel 9 are reporting that the gunman is confirmed dead.
03.35 local time (11.35 ET)
Channel 7 journalist Chris Reason has reported that two people have been killed — the gunman and one hostage.
Seven News has been told that the two dead are the gunman and a hostage. The hostage killed by the gunman
— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7)December 15, 2014
03.17 local time (11.17 ET)
BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner has reported that the assault team that stormed the Lindt cafe and ended the 16-hour-siege was the Tactical Assault Group, an Australian counter-terrorism unit.
03.10 local time (11.10 ET)
Mashable has released this video of hostages running from the scene.
02.50 local time (10.40 ET)
Sydney siege is over. More details to follow.
— NSW Police (@nswpolice)December 15, 2014
02.40 local time (10.40 ET)
Unconfirmed reports are emerging that the gunman has been shot dead.
Police have confirmed that the siege has ended after more than 16 hours. A bomb disposal robot has also been sent into the cafe.
02.30 local time (10.30 ET)
Police confirm live ammunition was used as heavily armed police stormed the building.
At least one hostage has been carried out on a stretcher to ambulance, and paramedics have now entered.
Some hostages are fleeing, and one woman with a bleeding leg was being carried by medical personnel.
02.25 local time (10.25 ET)
Hostages are being conveyed by ambulances away from the scene, according to ABC's live footage.
**02.10 local time (10.10 ET) ** ABC is reporting that police are storming the building as ambulances converge on the scene.
More hostages have emerged from the Lindt cafe. Loud blasts and gunfire have also been heard.
02.00 local time (10.00 ET)
Manny Conditsis represented Monis when he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal. Conditsis told ABC that this attack is a "one-off random event" by a "damaged goods individual who's done something outrageous."
"Knowing he was on bail for very serious offences, knowing that while he was in custody some terrible things happened to him, I thought he may consider that he's got nothing to lose," he said. "Hence participating in something as desperate and outrageous as this."
Conditsis also told ABC that Monis claimed to have been treated very badly while in prison.
"He was put through let's say some very unpleasant events, involving matters of excrement over himself and his cell."
01.50 local time (09.50 ET)
In an interview filmed after his 2009 court appearance, alleged gunman Man Haron Monis told cameras that he only wants safety for Australia, and that was his motivation for sending threatening letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. "When the Australian government kills innocent Afghan civilians," he told a reporter, "they might kill our civilians."
01.00 local time (09.00 ET)
Police have given the go-ahead to name the gunman. He is Man Haron Monis, reportedly a 50-year-old Iranian, who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996.
The Australian has reported that in November 2013 he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who was allegedly stabbed and set alight in her apartment complex. In March, he was charged with sexually and indecently assaulting a young woman in 2002. 40 more charges of indecent and sexual assault later emerged against him.
Monis is also known for sending "grossly offensive" letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers.
Experts suggest that it is likely this is a "lone-wolf" attack, rather than an organised terrorist operation.
**00.40 local time (08.40 ET) ** Thousands of people have taken to social media to express their support for Muslim Australians after fears of an Islamophobic backlash in the wider community.
The spontaneous #illridewithyou hashtag began trending globally on Twitter as people offered to accompany concerned Muslim companions on public transport.
The messages of support came shortly after several Australian radio stations took calls from Muslim listeners who said they were too scared to ride on public transport following the siege.
The display of social media support has been widely praised as a way of combating racism and bigotry, and continues to garner popularity online.
00.25 local time (08.25 ET)
Car hire company Uber came under fire earlier on Monday for implementing "surge pricing" as the hostage crisis unfolded, meaning that those attempting to leave Sydney's city center were forced to pay a minimum of $100 Aus ($82) for a trip.
We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.
— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney)December 15, 2014
Users of the app saw the message "Demand is off the charts! Fares have increased to get more Ubers on the road," and were informed that the fare had increased fourfold.
While initially the company said they had done this to encourage more drivers to get on the streets, they later apologized, saying: "Our thoughts are with those affected and the NSW Police Force. We are in the process of refunding rides. If you have been charged during those hours leaving the CBD please email email@example.com."
00.10 local time (08.10 ET)
The Lindt café is located directly opposite Channel 7's live studios, which some have speculated may have been the reason for the cafe being chosen.
Channel 7 journalist Chris Reason can see the scene of the siege from the windows of the newsroom.
Very little movement at the Lindt Cafe. One person, we believe to be the gunman, walking toward back office. He is carrying an iPad
— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7)December 15, 2014
There's been movement at the cafe, the gunman moving a hostage past the window, two more hostages change positions. Not much sleep in there
— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7)December 15, 2014
00.00 local time (08.00 ET)
Unverified videos are circulating on social media that claim to show hostages inside the café reading a list of demands. These include the delivery of an Islamic State flag.
In a press conference, police made a request to news media not to broadcast any material emanating from the cafe.
23.55 local time (07.55 ET)
Australian daily the Sydney Morning Herald has released tomorrow's editorial, which calls on Australians to be cautious when jumping to conclusions about this attack, and calls the siege a challenge that confronts "what sort of nation we want to be."
"The next test is to ensure we see this sad event for what it is - and what it is not.
"Above all comes the test of what it means to be Australian. We live in a nation with an overwhelmingly immigrant past. Thankfully, we have matured to the point where most of us respect the diversity of backgrounds and beliefs of our fellow citizens; where we treat people on their merits, not on preconceptions.
"Whenever one faith is implicated in a terrible crime, our tolerance of difference is challenged to its core. The test of our humanity is to rise above the calls for exclusion and persecution. To find the answers of the Martin Place siege, we need to remain calm, retain perspective and embrace all sections of the community to ensure we can all go about our everyday lives free of fear."
The editorial also urges the public to have compassion towards the perpetrator. "While we do not know his story or his motivation, we know he was once someone just like those people whose lives he has now treated with such disdain. He must have loved ones, too. Forgiving him will be very difficult, and it will take time. Without forgiveness, though, we have to live with destructive hate."
23.40 local time (07.40 ET)
The mother of one of the men being held hostage told radio host Ray Hadley that her son texted her to say that he was inside. The 18-year-old apprentice plumber texted first saying simply that he was in the café. When she replied asking "What's going ok? Are you ok?" he replied with: "I'm ok mum can't talk."
23.30 local time (07.30 ET)
Images of religious leaders, including at Sydney's Lakemba Mosque in the heart of Australia's Sunni Muslim community, have been coming in from Australia.
The interfaith prayer meetings took place this afternoon in Australia, 50 Muslim organizations released a statement condemning the hostage taker and expressing solidarity with the hostages and their families. The statement reads:
"Our immediate thoughts go to the hostages and their loved ones. We pray for their safety and hope this matter is resolved quickly and peacefully.
"We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to instill fear and terror into the hearts.
"Any such despicable act only serves to play into the agendas of those who seek to destroy the goodwill of the people of Australia and to further damage, and ridicule the religion of Islam, and Australian Muslims throughout this country.
In the meantime, Australians took to social media in force to express solidarity with Muslim Australians, amid fears that tomorrow morning, Muslim commuters on public transport will be met with fear and suspicion. #illridewithyou trended worldwide within hours of beginning this afternoon in Sydney.
23.20 local time (07.20 ET)
Australian police have commended the public for their behaviour throughout the day.
"You, the community, made our job much easier than it could have been," Deputy Commissioner Burn said in a statement. "We only hope that co-operation and understanding continues tomorrow as we work to bring about a peaceful resolution to this situation."
The New South Wales Police Force also said that most public transport would run as normal on Tuesday, and that the public should "go about their business as usual."
**23.05 local time (07.05 ET) ** Multi-faith vigils are being held in mosques around Australia, including in Lakemba Mosque, one of the country's largest. President of the Lebanese Muslim Association Samier Dandan told the BBC: "The vigil is across many different religious groups — Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, the Jewish community… This is basically to show that communities can come together in solidarity and work together as a family to try to address whatever issue that we face collectively in partnership and solidarity."
Dandan added: "We will not allow lunatics on any side… to try to distract from the values that we hold so close to our heart, particularly multiculturalism."
22.30 local time (06.30 ET)
Australia has been left stunned as police surround a building in central Sydney in an ongoing standoff with an armed man, already over 12 hours long.
Police shut down Sydney's Martin Place, a large pedestrian thoroughfare leading up to state parliament, after an armed gunman took hostages inside a Lindt Chocolate Cafe. Live television news images showed hostages holding a black flag with white Arabic text to the windows of the cafe. The flag is the Shahada, a flag associated with Sunni militant groups such as the Islamic State, al Shabaab, and al Qaeda. The text on the flag is a pledge of faith for Sunni Muslims that reads "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet."
Two hostages inside the siege have told Australia's Channel Ten news that the gunman, who is calling himself "The Brother,, claims he has two bombs inside a Sydney cafe where they are being held and two other bombs elsewhere in Sydney's city centre.
Channel Ten became the third confirmed news organization to be contacted by the gunman at the centre of the siege with 2GB and Channel Nine both confirming contact. Channel Ten reported that the man is demanding an Islamic State flag be brought to him, and that he is allowed to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Australia's National Security committee was convened to respond to the situation. The committee includes Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a number of cabinet ministers, the chief of the defense forces, and the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. Abbott released a statement about the situation via Twitter.
1/2 The incident in Martin Place is obviously deeply concerning but all Australians should be reassured...
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR)December 15, 2014
2/2 ...that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough & professional manner.
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR)December 15, 2014
New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione New South Wales Police held his latest press conference at 8:30pm local time.
"Can I start by saying our plan, our only goal tonight and for as long as this takes, is to get those people that are currently caught in that building, out of there safely," Scipione said to assembled media.
He also addressed concerns that reprisal attacks could be directed against Australia's Muslim community. "Clearly reprisal attacks are something that should not happen," he said, asking for the community to remain calm.