A hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, on Monday at a downtown cafe ended with police storming the site. Two people, including the terrorist, are dead and five injured – three seriously – initial reports say.

The incident began at about 9:45 a.m. when a gunman entered the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, in the center of the city’s financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers at this time of year.

The city center was immediately shut down and hundreds of security personnel flooded the city. The famed Sydney Opera House was reportedly evacuated following a bomb scare.

The 16-hour siege ended late afternoon when police stormed the cafe. The terrorist was identified as Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian refugee. According to media reports, in 2012 he was found guilty of threatening families of soldiers in Afghanistan. He also faced several charges of sexual assault and of being an accessory to murder of his ex-wife.

It was unclear exactly how many hostages the gunman had taken captive in the restaurant, but the number was estimated at 15. At some point five hostages had managed to escape to safety.

Hewas reportedly wearing a gray scarf around his face and a band on his head with Arabic writing, and he was armed with a gun and a knife. Some reports indicated that he had planted four explosive devices around the cafe premises.

New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn told media that police were treating the situation as a hostage negotiation and were working to “conclude it peacefully.”

“There is speculation about what he might want, but we have to deal with him at the level of police negotiation,” Burn said.

An Islamic State Terror Attack?

Reports say that the terrorist had contacted the Australian media, but they refused to cooperate with him and police had banned the publishing of his demands. Later information reveals that he had agreed to release the hostages on condition that he be given an ISIS flag and the opportunity to speak to the Australian prime minister. Police confirmed that they are in contact with the hostage-taker and negotiations are taking place.

Australian authorities had refused to discuss the motivation for this incident. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that the attack was “politically motivated,” avoiding the question of a terror attack. However, two of the hostages were forced to stand by the cafe window with what appeared to by an Islamic State (IS or ISIS) terror group flag, with the notorious white writing in Arabic on black cloth.

The Australian Jewish News reported that the Jewish community immediately raised the level of alert in the community, with its educational and cultural institutions placed under lockdown.

By: United with Israel Staff