Dead hostages named; Key says NZ tracking individuals similar to gunman
UPDATE / 11am: The Sydney seige victims have been named.
They were Katrina Dawson (38), a high profile Sydney barrister, daughter of prominent businessman Alexander "Sandy" Dawson (former CEO of Arnotts) and mother of three who worked in nearby Phillip St, and Tori Johnson, the 34-year-old manager of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe where the hostage drama took place.
Both were shot by gunman Man Haron Monis (50) who was in turn killed in the resulting shoot-out with police.
Police have not confirmed reports from several media outlets that Mr Johnson was attempting to wrestle a gun off Monis at the time he got shot.
NZ identified similar individuals
Prime Minister John Key says of 30 to 40 individuals identified as a threat to New Zealand's national security there were some with "not identical but similar characteristics" to Monis.
"If you think about the sort of characteristics of the person that could be attracted to these kinds of actions they need to be often.....disenfranchised, sometimes mentally unwell, perceptible to the sorts of messages that Isis are pumping out by their social media and outreach campaign and believers of the extreme version of Islam.
"When all those characteristics congregate together you have a toxic combination and that's what you see both in Canada and Australia.
"So from New Zealand's point of view theres a very small group of people in that category," the PM said this morning.
It would naive to think that an attack similar to the Sydney siege couldn’t happen in New Zealand.
On TV3's Firstline, the PM rejected rejected arguments that the attack might not have happened if Australian troops were not in Iraq.
"There is always that risk, there's that risk everywhere in the world. There's the risk that there's a person who is somehow attracted to the teachings and kinds of messages and propaganda that these people are peddling," Mr Key said.
The recently-passed "foreign fighters" bill allows for 24 hours of warrantless surveillance and other counter-terror measures.
Mr Key said the events in Sydney only showed how dangerous IS was, even if it wasn't directly involved.
There no immediate plans to change NZ's risk assessment.
Three dead, four badly injured as police storm cafe
UPDATE 7am: At a media conference, Police have confirmed the death of a second hostage.
The death toll is now three: gunman Man Haron Monis, a male hostage aged 34 and a female hostage aged 38.
Two women are in hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
A policeman is also in hospital after his cheek was grazed by a bullet. The NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says the policeman will be in hospital for some time but is in good condition.
There were 17 hostages in total, Mr Scipione says.
The Iranian-born Monis (see profile below) is being portrayed as an unstable loner. He was on bail following multiple sexual assault charges, and a charge of being an accessory in the murder of his wife. Local Islamic community leaders refused to acknowledge his self-proclaimed cleric status.
UPDATE / Dec 15, 5am: Armed police stormed the cafe at the centre of the Sydney siege around 2.20am local time.
Early reports say two are dead and up to five seriously injured, including a policeman.
One of the confirmed dead is the gunman, the other a hostage.
The hostage was killed by the gunman, who was earlier identified as Iranian-born Man Haron Monis.
Trigged by escape
Moments before police went in, another seven hostages ran from the central CBD Lindt Cafe, where hostages had been held since 9.45am local time yesterday.
Five fled late Monday.
7News' Chris Reason — who has been reporting from the broadcaster's office across the street from the cafe — says Monis was attempting to shepherd hostages from one side of the cafe to the other when a small group broke away and ran for the exit.
Witnesses say there was a loud bang soon after the seven hostages ran out.
It was followed by several more loud bangs then around 10 to 15 seconds of gunfire. There were two more bursts of gunfire as police entered the building.
At around 1am local time the lone gunman was identified as Iranian-born Man Haron Monis (50), a self-styled Muslim cleric (pictured below).
He arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996.
The Australian reports Monis was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife in 2013. He was free on bail.
Last year he plead guilty to writing offensive letters to the families of Australian service members and received 300 hours of community service, The Australian says.
In April of this year, police arrested Monis and charged him with sexually assaulting a woman in western Sydney in 2002, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Other sex-related charges were added regarding six additional victims. Police reportedly said Monis was using the name Mohammad Hassan Manteghi and claimed to be a "sexual healer".
Monis was reportedly in court last Friday, where he failed to get the sex charges dropped. The Sydney Morning Herald says Monis was apparently upset after the hearing.
He has been appearing in court on-and-off since 2010 on charges related to his letters sent to the families of dead Australian soldiers. He has often worn chains, and held up placards.
Monis used his hostages' Facebook accounts to issue his two demands. He wanted a phone call with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and an Islamic State flag. The Australian government stuck to its policy of no negotiations with terrorists.
"One-off random individual"
A former lawyer for Monis told ABC News, "This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act."
Local Islamic leaders have condemed Monis.
A potential Muslim backlash has been countered by a social media campaign hashtagged #illridewithyou, which has gone viral with hundreds of thousands of post. The campaign was inspired by a Facebook post by a Sydney woman who offered to sit beside a Muslim woman riding alone on a train.
Sydney cafe gunman demands to talk to Abbott, Islamic State flag
UPDATE 8.45pm, Dec 15: Two hostages have phoned Australia's Channel Ten from inside the cafe, reporter Hugh Riminton says.
According to Mr Riminton's social media posts, the hostages said the gunman is demanding to speak to Tony Abbott.
He also wants an Islamic State flag brought to the cafe.
The gunman also claims two bombs have been placed in the CBD.
The two women were hysterical and believe they are in immediate danger, Mr Riminton says.
7News reporter Chris Reason, viewing the Lindt Cafe from across the street in the broadcaster's building, says 7News staff have counted 15 hostages.
"From inside Martin Place newsroom we can see the gunman is rotating hostages, forcing them to stand against windows, sometimes 2 hours at a time," Mr Reason says.
NSW Police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn said police were aware of messages apparently being posted on Facebook from somebody inside the cafe and that communication was being monitored.
Five leave cafe
UPDATE 7pm: Five people have managed to flee the Sydney CBD cafe where a gunman brandishing an al-Qaeda flag has been holding "less than 30" hostages, police say.
Three male hostages ran out of the cafe shortly before 6pm NZ time, followed shortly after by two women wearing Lindt Cafe staff uniforms.
Police say they are now in contact with the lone gunman.
It was not immediately clear if the hostages managed to escape or were released as a good-faith gesture.
Could a copycat attack happen here?
Like Australia, NZ is tightening its anti-terror laws. However, international security expert Dr Paul Buchanan cautions that "a lone wolf and small cell attacks by self-radicalised individuals are almost impossible to prevent if the perpetrators do their planning in secrecy and do not share their intentions with anyone unconnected to the plot."
Dr Buchanan tells NBR such tactics have been advocated by Inspire, al-Qaeda's on-line magazine.
"Home made explosives such as chlorine bombs or even molotovs, bladed weapons and firearms are the primary weapons of homegrown extremists," says the former policy analyst for the US Secretary of Defence and advisor to the Pentagon.
"It could inspire copy cats in New Zealand but the security situation here is slightly better due to the smaller size of the Muslim community and the amount of penetration the security services have achieved within it," Dr Buchanan says.
"Nevertheless, if someone is intent on committing mass violence and keeps to the rules of operational secrecy, then it could happen."
Uber accused of profiteering
Uber, a service that uses an app to connect its drivers with passengers, has been accused of trying to profiteer from the hostage incident.
AFR reported Uber drivers were charging a minimum $A100 for a ride out of the CBD as buildings in the blocks around the Lindt Cafe were evacuated.
The US-owned company quickly responded to a social media backlash by making all rides out of the CBD free.
It said it had increased increased pricing to attract more drivers to the area.
Uber Australia-NZ spokeswoman Katie Curran told NBR rides from earlier in the day would be refunded.
Abbott: Not clear if politically-motivated
In a TV address on the hostage drama in the Sydney CBD, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has cautioned people against leaping to conclusions about the gunman's motivation, or over-reacting.
“We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, or whether it is politically motivated, although there are some indications it could be," Mr Abbott said.
“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.
“I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.
“I want to assure people the ordinary business of government will go on,” he said. Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann would release the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook shortly as planned.
“Our thoughts and prayers must go out to the individuals caught up in this. I can think of nothing more distressing or terrifying.
“In a situation like this all sorts of reports fly around. I do urge everyone to exercise caution in their reporting, but I will leave all operational details to police.”
EARLIER: A hostage situation in unfolding in central Sydney, with up to 13 people being held in a cafe by an armed gunman. An Islamic flag has been brandished at the cafe's window.
3 News Australia Correspondent Tom McRae, who is based in Channel 7's headquarters across the road, says he could see people with their hands against the windows of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe on Martin Place in the CBD.
The incident began at 9.44am local time.
The Lindt Cafe is opposite the Channel 7 studio where the broadcaster's Sunrise breakfast program is filmed. The studio has a window facing the street, which provides a backdrop to the programme’s presenters.
The flag was initially taken for an Islamic State flag. It is now reported that that it bears a slogan often used by al-Qaeda: "There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah". Some reports also say the gunman is also wearing an headband with Islamic writing, and wearing a backpack. He is described as middle-aged and heavyset.
Police are swarming over the area and newsroom staff have been told to move away from the windows, as they look directly over to the cafe, the 3News correspondent says.
Both uniformed and plain-clothed police are on the scene.
7News reports Martin Place is in lockdown. Some reports say surrounding buildings are being evacuated.
But expat Kiwi and 7News staffer Christy Johns says on social media that, "We can't get out of the building, locked down, moved to a higher level."
Airspace over Sydney's CBD has been cleared, but aircraft are still flying on schedule.
The Opera House has been evacuated, trains stopped and the Harbour Bridge closed.
Mobile phone reception is being jammed around the immediate area of the incident, the AFR says.
The Supreme Court in Macquarie Street has been evacuated and closed.
Local schools have been asked to assume ‘white level’ lockout which means no school group is to leave the school grounds.
In a brief statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the hostage situation "deeply concerning but ... our law enforcement are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner."
Mr Abbott has cautioned that it is not known at this stage if the hostage takers are politically motivated.