Three dead, including gunman in Sydney hostage crisis - police
Amid a barrage of gunfire, police stormed a cafe in the heart of Sydney early Tuesday to end a 16-hour hostage siege by an Iranian-born gunman.
Police said three people were killed — the gunman and two of the hostages - and four others were wounded.
Police raided the Lindt Chocolat Cafe after they heard a number of gunshots from inside, said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.
"They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost," he said.
The gunman was identified as Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan.
Scipione wouldn't say whether the two hostages who were killed - a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman - were caught in crossfire, or shot by the gunman. Among the four wounded was a police officer shot in the face.
"Until we were involved in this emergency action, we believe that no one had been injured.
We changed our tactic," he said, adding that there had been a total of 17 hostages taken in the cafe when the siege began.
The standoff ended when a loud bang was heard from the cafe and five people ran out. Shortly after, police swooped in, amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes.
A police bomb disposal robot also was sent into the building, but no explosives were found.
Police said an investigation is underway because police were involved in an incident in which people died.
Local media identified the gunman as 50-year-old Monis, and a police official confirmed his identity.
Under department rules, officials do not identify themselves unless speaking at a formal news conference.
Monis has long been on officials' radar.
Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for using the postal service to send what a judge called "grossly offensive" letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.
At the time, Monis said his letters were "flowers of advice," adding: "Always, I stand behind my beliefs."
He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002.
He has been out on bail on the charges.
"This is a one-off random individual. It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged goods individual who's done something outrageous," his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Conditsis said.
The siege began around 9:45 a.m. in Martin Place, a plaza in Sydney's financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year.
Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken captive as they stopped in for their morning coffees.
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