Hostage taker among 2 reported dead in Sydney cafe rescue operation

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — An Islamist gunman holding at least a dozen hostages at a Sydney cafe reportedly was among two people killed in a rescue operation by police.

Heavily armed forces from the Australian Federal Police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at about 2 a.m. Tuesday following the escape of several hostages from the building, which is located in the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district. Several people were injured in the rescue effort.

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Australia’s Jewish community went into official lockdown after the gunman, identified as self-styled Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis, entered the cafe and took hostages on Monday morning.

Sky News Australia reported that Monis was killed. It was not known if an alleged accomplice was also among the dead.

Monis, 50, who was granted political asylum in Australia, is currently on bail for several violent offenses, including being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

On Monday, television images showed two hostages holding a black-and-white flag with the Arabic text of the Shahada – the affirmation of Islam – at the window of the cafe.

Counter-terror agents swarmed the city center, evacuating the Opera House and other key sites as Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the media that the gunman had a “political motivation.”

By nightfall, five hostages had escaped or been freed; more than a dozen others reportedly remained captive until right before police stormed the cafe.

Although Jewish leaders do not comment on security matters, several did confirm the threat level to the Jewish community had been elevated by the Community Security Group, which handles security for the Jewish communities of Australia, as a result of the crisis.

At least one major Jewish institution in Sydney issued a “code red” emergency alert; the building was sealed with no one allowed to enter or exit for several hours before the alert was lifted.