Three people including a gunman are dead and four have been injured after a terrifying 16-hour siege in Sydney ended in a barrage of bullets as police stormed a local café.
The two hostages who died in the siege were identified Tuesday morning by police in Sydney as 34-year-old café manager Tori Johnson and 38-year-old barrister Katrina Dawson, a mother of two.
Heavily armed police overtook the Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney's Martin Place just after 2am local time, following sounds of gunfire coming from inside the building. It has been reported that gunfire began after Tori Johnson tried to grab the gun from the gunman, Man Haron Monis.
"[Police] made that call because they believed that at that time if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost," New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said.
The siege, which began around 9:45am local time, came to a dramatic end as loud bangs were heard and five of the 17 civilians who had been taken hostage ran out.
Police have confirmed that the gunman, identified as 50-year-old Iranian cleric and self-styled Sheikh Man Haron Monis, was on bail for a string of violent offenses. He is now dead.
The two victims were pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital. It is unclear if they were killed by Monis or were caught in the crossfire when police stormed the café.
"Our first thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims of this horrendous, vicious attack," said Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales.
Two additional female hostages and one male police officer were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The police officer was shot in the face, the Associated Press reported.
Heavily armed police storm Lindt cafe in Martin Place.
Video emerged on social media during the siege showing four of the hostages relaying the gunman's demands, which included that he be given an Islamic State flag and that media broadcasts state the situation is "an attack on Australia by the Islamic State."
During the siege, two people could be seen holding up to the cafe's window a black flag with the Shahada — the Islamic declaration of faith, which translates to "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger."
Despite his claims that the attack was politically motivated, it is still not clear whether Monis had any ties to the Islamic State or any other terror organizations.
"This is a very disturbing incident," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. "It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation."
Monis was on bail on a charge of accessory to murder, and had more than 40 charges of indecent and sexual assault against him. In 2013 he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service after sending "grossly offensive"letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
In a series of YouTube videos, Monis — who received political asylum in Australia in 1996 and reportedly lived in south Sydney's Bexley North area — claimed he was tortured in an Australian prison over the letters.
The police operation has concluded and the investigation into the entire incident is ongoing.
"The events we have seen have shaken us but they do not dampen our resolve," said Premier Baird.
In September, Australia raised its terror warning over the increased threat from Islamic State militants. Dozens of raids in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane took place, resulting in one arrest of a man accused of working with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a person at random in Sydney.