Nothing ever happens in Sydney, Australia. If you Google “Sydney” and “siege” you will come up with Sydney Street Siege, which took place between anarchists and the British security forces headed by then Home Secretary Winston Churchill in 1911. But that may change.
Something has finally happened in Sydney. This is a theme which is now frequently being echoed on the radio: Australia was subliminally regarded, even by its inhabitants, as the last place on earth where anything bad could take place. But that situation had been changing for some time. By some accounts 200 Australian passport holders have traveled to Syria and similar places to learn the Jihadi trade. “The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) reported at the end of the year: ‘The situation in Syria, with the potential for violence spilling into other parts of the Middle East, increases the possibility of associated communal violence in Australia and remains a concern for ASIO’.”
As most readers may know by now, a gunman or gunmen has taken about a dozen hostages (up to 40 but accounts differ) prisoner in a cafe in Martin Place, which is the ceremonial heart of Sydney. It’s near the Cenotaph war memorial and but a stone’s throw from the US consulate. US citizens in the country have been warned to be aware of their surroundings, in the sense of being on guard against possible threats.
The scene of the incident is an upscale cafe, which now has a black “shahada” flag draped across it, saying “there is no God but Allah”. There are reports that the police have rounded up a number of one of the suspect’s associates in Auburn, which is a suburb heavily populated by Muslims.
The situation has settled into a siege. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made an essentially content-free statement on the situation, saying his thoughts are with the hostages and the cops are working on resolving the situation. However, he added nothing of substance to the open source facts.
But that hasn’t stopped the debate over hot-button issues like immigration and multiculturalism from pre-emptively starting up. One person on Twitter says:
WARNING: troll accounts of racists/fascists springing up to exploit #MartinPlaceSeige incidents. Block, report, delete. Human scum. #antifa
Hundreds of onlookers are hovering outside the police barriers. Some hostages have been made to stand against the cafe glass, probably to block sight lines into the interior and display the black flag.
Much of the area is locked down. Traffic has been re-routed. But officials are at pains to emphasize that the city is open. The government has decided to continue operating as normal, apparently as a refusal to appear to be intimidated.
In the most recent development, a man purporting to be a hostage has called a well known radio host, Ray Hadley, under duress with a message to the authorities to pull back. Interestingly, a police spokesman talking to reporters emphasized that they are not in direct contact with the hostage taker yet, although they are in indirect contact through the cell phones of the hostages themselves.
The usual procedure in these cases is to wear the hostage takers down. In 24 to 36 hours the gunman or men will be giddy with fatigue. The roundup of associates suggests the cops are trying to piece together an accurate picture of the assailant. The cops say they are acting consistent with a terrorist event.
A second call has been made to Hadley from one of the hostages at around 22:30 EST Dec 14, under the direction of a perp, who made demands he wished to be directly conveyed to the public. Hadley was apparently under instructions to refuse any requests to broadcast demands direct. The perp was told he had to go through the cops and no one else. Some of the hostages were apparently overheard “in distress” and the hidden subtext of Hadley’s broadcast was that he was now a man in the middle of a deadly game, and that it was an unpleasant place to be.
There is now a silent battle of wills between the cops and the perps. One may conjecture they allowed Hadley to perceive the distress of the hostages in order to pressure the authorities. It’s like a kidnapper making a child scream to underscore a ransom demand. There is no official line on who the perp is or what he is a part of. Is he an amateur? Has he been to Syria or someplace similar? The official answers to these are still unknown. But the radio broadcast now suggests the perps are identifying themselves as ISIS. Are the perps bluffing?
One of the demands Hadley vouchasafed to the public was that the perp inside asked for a proper ISIS flag to replace the mere shahada banner that was hung out front.
The negotiators and the kidnappers are skirmishing by trading signals. What hand do they really hold? And how much do the cops know about the men holed up in the cafe? What each side is trying to gauge is the level of commitment the other party possesses, how far the other side will go.
Authorities are now officially characterizing the siege as a terrorist incident and have activated something called Task Force Pioneer for this contingency.
Three hostages including an elderly man and an employee (maybe the barista) have escaped and are being debriefed by police. Two more hostages subsequently escaped at about 01:00 EST, bringing the total of bolters to five. The escape of the hostages represents an objective defeat for the perps, because the police now have a fairly good idea (apart from whatever information has been obtained from fiber optics and other devices) how many and where the perps are, including any possible ringers among the hostages, from the debrief.
The logical avenue of action is for the police to continue to attempt a negotiated resolution, while using their new found intelligence to build up a contingency assault plan, in case the perps begin trying to kill the hostages. The hostage takers are now facing an eroding negotiating position, and their logical next moves are to tie up the hostages and ramp up their threats. In a few hours night will fall and the cops will have a relatively empty field of action. The perps must know this, and so the tension rises. The deadly dance has now moved to a higher level. How far is each side prepared to go?
03:40 EST All the hostages now huddled at one end of Lindt Cafe, one is covering the window at that end with an apron, according to a Sydney journalist.
04:29 EST The police commissioner is asked why the lights have gone off in the cafe in Martin Place. The lights stay off.
10:25 EST This would be 02:25 local. The police have gone in. The perp is now identified as an Iranian-born refugee, Man Haron Monis. He’s something of a flake. “Most recently, he was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed ‘spiritual healer’ who dealt with black magic at a premises in western Sydney more than a decade ago.” The suspect has been in trouble with the law for writing hate letters to the families of deceased Australian soldiers. He’s also a convert from Shia to Sunni Islam, so there’s some inside baseball here.
10:50 EST No word on casualties yet, but the situation has been declared over. Now to count the cost. People are being taken to nearby hospitals.
The blame game will begin. It will be interesting to see what triggered the assault. Some will say the fact a known police character could get up to this without the cops getting wise is proof of incompetence. Others will put it own to an excess of tolerance. Some will characterize the motivation as Islamic. Others will say it’s just an a crazy man acting out his fantasies.
I’ll finish this post by noting the pre-emptive call to ‘fight racist monsters’ is already beginning. The Washington Post has a story on the #Illridewithyou hashtag, which is supposedly a movement by whites (though nobody really says this) in solidarity with Muslims who are about to be profiled and abused in Australia, a kind of mental pre-crime prophylactic.
Earlier in the day, as the hostage-taker remained holed up in a luxury chocolate shop, a stirring, inspirational hashtag proliferated across the country. “#Illridewithyou” was meant as a mark of solidarity with Australian Muslims and others, such as Sikhs, who may worry that they will be targeted because of their religious garb. It was sparked by reports on social media of some Australians comforting others who were fearful of reprisal.
But although there may be a few nasty remarks uttered on the roads tomorrow, I don’t think anybody really expects Australian lynch mobs running pell mell through the streets with coils of boiled rope and bullwhips at the ready. Nobody that is except the leftist bwanas who are always saving the poor downtrodden brown man from a fate worse than death. In a way the last holdout of the British Empire is the leftist discussion group. On them the sun never sets.
The people who have really been ignored are the usual invisible men: the Asian waiters and cooks of the Lindt cafe. They are the equivalent of the Indian convenience store owner in Ferguson. There, but not really. These are the guys who like most everyone else are going to show up for work tomorrow, some even at the ill-fated cafe, unless they are told to go home. The sun will come up tomorrow and coffees will still be served. If the world keeps turning it will be because as Michael Crichton once said, “life finds a way”.
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