Police storm Sydney hostage café

Several more hostages have fled the scene of the Sydney cafe siege amid the sound of gunfire and loud explosions.

Police storm Sydney hostage café

Several more hostages have fled the scene of the Sydney cafe siege amid the sound of gunfire and loud explosions.

A police spokesman confirmed “the operation is over” but would not release any further details.

4.28pm UPDATE: A number of news outlets quoting local sources reported that one hostage had died and that the gunman had been shot, possibly fatally.

Police were unable to immediately confirm any injuries or deaths.

At least six hostages ran from the building with their arms aloft just after 2am local time.

Armed police and medics entered the building soon afterwards.

Paramedics carrying stretchers could be seen running towards the cafe in the moments after a volley of loud bangs and flashes.

After the police moved in, one weeping woman was helped out by the officers and at least two other people were wheeled out on stretchers.

“Lots of screaming,” ABC reporter Nick Dole said from the scene.

Bomb disposal officers in protective gear were also seen entering the building and a bomb disposal robot was deployed.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the latest hostages to flee and the police to move in.

Leonie Ryan from Fairfax Radio reported that police did not plan to storm the building, but were prompted to do so when the gunman opened fire.

Earlier, Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.

The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe’s windows. Reporter Chris Reason said the man carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.

Earlier, network staff counted about 15 different faces among hostages forced up against the windows.

“The gunman seems to be sort of rotating these people through these positions on the windows with their hands and faces up against the glass,” Mr Reason said in a report from the vantage point.

“One woman we’ve counted was there for at least two hours – an extraordinary, agonising time for her surely having to stand on her feet for that long.”

“When we saw that rush of escapees, we could see from up here in this vantage point the gunman got extremely agitated as he realised those five had got out. He started screaming orders at the people, the hostages who remain behind.”

The hostage taker, named as Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, has long been on officials’ radar.

Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for writing offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

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 over 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.”

Monis recently attracted attention by writing offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

He was also banned in 2010 from writing similar “letters of condolence” to British soldiers killed in that conflict.

A message apparently sent by Monis in October to members of the Muslim community and published on his personal website voiced support for non-violent activism.

“Islam is the religion of peace and a Muslim should be a peace activist,” Monis wrote in a letter he signed “Sheikh Haron”.

“Islam is against oppression and any unfair violence. Islam is against terrorism. As I have repeatedly said earlier: ’this pen is my gun and these words are my bullets, I fight by these weapons against oppression to promote peace’.”

The website was this afternoon suspended.

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