Australian hostages who had been held in a Sydney chocolate shop for 12 hours have been released after police raided the establishment. Customers and employees inside the Lindt Chocolate Cafe had been held against their will by a Muslim man identified as Man Haron Monis.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that police entered the shop after a group of hostages escaped and a gunshot was heard inside. A SWAT team stormed the shop firing multiple rounds of shots.
Police reported that at least two hostages were injured; no hostages have been confirmed dead.
Monis was convicted in 2013 of writing offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers and was recently charged with sexual assault stemming from his time as a “spiritual healer” from 2000 to 2002. He was also charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Monis had appeared in court Friday (Dec. 12) in an effort to drop previous charges against him.
In response to the traumatic events, Muslims and Christians have united in prayer for the victims and their families. The hashtag #illridewithyou also exploded on Twitter after Australians volunteered to ride public transportation with Muslims who wear religious attire such as a hijab, and felt uncomfortable doing so because of the association with Monis.
Update 3:56 pm EST: Officials confirmed that three people died in the chocolate shop siege, including Monis.
Publication date: December 15, 2014