Mike Head ■ A 16-hour police siege of an inner Sydney café culminated in a full-scale assault by para-military commandos just after 2 a.m., leaving two hostages dead, as well as the lone hostage-taker. The bloody outcome also left many unanswered questions about the entire incident, including the fatal decision to storm the building. Police and security officials kept reporters far away from the scene throughout the siege, making it impossible to view what happened, but long-distance footage showed heavily-armed units storming the building, firing stun grenades and semi-automatic weapons. Just minutes earlier, at least 5 of the 17 hostages fled the building, as did 5 last night. Soon after the siege was ended, Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a statement commending the “courage and professionalism” of the police and other emergency services involved. Yet the official justifications offered for sending in commandos, resulting in three deaths, were full of contradictions.
Peter Symonds ■ Without providing any justification, the Australian government yesterday seized on an isolated incident involving a deeply disturbed individual in the Sydney CBD to activate the entire “counter-terrorism” apparatus and impose a state of siege in the centre of the country’s largest city—with tragic consequences. What would ordinarily have been dealt with as a serious, but relatively straightforward, police matter—an armed gunman taking hostages in a city café—was escalated into a major national crisis by the intervention of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with the full support of the opposition Labor Party and the Greens, state governments and the entire media. [...] No rational reason has been offered for this massive police operation. Police determined relatively quickly that the hostage-taker was Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee well-known to police. He had no connection to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al Qaeda or any other Islamic extremist organisation. He was a troubled individual, with a history of erratic actions, on bail for alleged involvement in the murder of his ex-wife. Likewise, no coherent explanation has been given for the decision to storm the café in the early hours of this morning. The NSW police commissioner initially declared that officers charged into the building in response to shots heard inside, then declined to repeat his statement. The outcome is that the hostage-taker is dead, along with two innocent people—the café manager and a mother of three—and four others are injured.