Sydney: jihadist holds hostages in cafe

Although the police are in contact with the hostage-taker, who is placarding his crime with an Islamic flag and a bandana, his motives and demands still remain unknown

In Sydney’s CBD business district, an armed hostage-taker is holding between 15 and 30 patrons of a chocolate cafe. Meanwhile, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed a political background of the hostage-taking. The man wears a black headband with white Arabic characters, similar to images of jihadists from the Syrian-Iraqi war zone.

Moreover, shortly after entering the cafe, he had forced employees or guests to hang a black flag, also with Arabic characters, in a shop window. There were initially different reports this morning about the exact content of the writing: The first reports said that it was the Islamic creed, but German news reported something else, namely that the inscription was the Islamic creed "Allahu akbar" (BR 5), experts also expressed themselves in this sense. Images from an Australian television station circulating this morning showed only the lower half of the black flag. Around noon, information confirmed that the lettering is the Islamic creed.

Opposite the cafe there is a TV channel Channel 7, which transmits pictures of the events. The newsroom there is said to have a good view of what is happening, which suggests that the cafe was not chosen at random by the perpetrator. It is a soft target, with guaranteed world publicity.

The perpetrator entered the cafe at Martin Place in Sydney at around 9:45 a.m. local time (7:45 p.m. German time); the hostages have now been held for more than twelve hours; the area around the cafe has been cordoned off and an anti-terrorism task force has been called in. According to the TV station, there are 15 hostages. The hostage-taker is reportedly forcing his captives to take turns stepping in front of the window.

Meanwhile the Australian police is in contact with the perpetrator, who has also been identified, according to the latest reports. However, the motive and demands are not yet known. Information is being withheld deliberately, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, so as not to jeopardize negotiations with the perpetrator ("We have the best negotiators in the world", according to NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn). Whether the perpetrator is a homegrown jihadist, a lunatic, or the perpetrator of a plan involving backers has not yet been determined.

Prime Minister Abbott said that the incident had been "is very disturbing" and that it was shocking that innocent people were being held hostage by a person claiming political motivation".

Australia is among the list of countries that Islamic State spokesman al-Adnani called out in a diatribe this September as legitimate targets for violence of all kinds ("Kill them, spit on them, despise them"). The country is part of the anti-IS coalition.

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