SYDNEY — Shaken Sydney residents headed back to work Tuesday morning after a dramatic hostage siege that brought the city to a standstill on Monday ended overnight with three dead and four injured.
Although at press time an exclusion zone still surrounded the immediate vicinity of the Lindt Chocolate Café where the incident occurred, most businesses in and around Martin Place that had been affected by Monday’s events resumed normal trading hours on Tuesday morning. The latter included Tiffany & Co.’s Sydney flagship at 28 Castlereagh Street, which, like many others, had been evacuated by police.
About 100 stores at the nearby Westfield Sydney mall, including Prada, Gucci, Miu Miu and Sephora, elected to close on Monday, according to a Westfield spokeswoman, after the incident caused chaos throughout the central business district, with several blocks cordoned off and trains and buses diverted. The center reopened at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Westfield had beefed up security, she said.
The precinct includes a number of high-profile addresses such as the NSW Premier, the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Commonwealth Bank headquarters, the U.S. consulate, Seven Network, the Supreme Court of NSW and the NSW Parliament.
Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, said it was impossible to estimate the potential impact on the Christmas trading period, which represents 60 percent of annual turnover for some retailers.
“We know that a number of retailers have stepped up security in their stores,” said Zimmerman. “This comes at a very disappointing time for retailers but it is always important that the safety of people comes first at all times. It has been a disaster and a huge concern in the minds of people. Both the prime minister and NSW Premier Mike Baird have urged people to return to normality as quickly as possible. Obviously that is going to be very difficult.”
Just after 2 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday morning, tactical police stormed the café at 53 Martin Place after they heard gunshots, where an armed gunman had taken 17 hostages some 16 hours beforehand. According to NSW police, shots were fired during the confrontation, but the organization declined to comment on speculation that heavily armed officers entered the building only after hearing gunfire inside the café, shortly after additional hostages managed to break free. Five others had escaped unharmed late Monday afternoon. A critical incident investigation has been launched.
The gunman, identified as 50-year-old Iranian-born radical self-styled sheikh Man Haron Monis, was well known to authorities, being on bail for 40 indecent and sexual assault charges and as an accessory to murder. In 2013, Monis was convicted of writing offensive letters to the families of two Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.
The dead included Monis as well as Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister, and Tori Johnson, the 34-year-old manager of the cafe.
“Tragically, there are people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence. But the events in Martin Place also show we are ready to deal with these people with the full force of law,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a media briefing.
“I’m shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible incident that has taken place in Sydney,” said Ernst Tanner, chairman and group chief executive officer of Lindt & Sprüngli.
In September, Australia raised its terror threat alert level from medium to high and flagged Martin Place as a potential terrorist target. Although apparently not officially connected with the Islamic State terrorist organization, Monis had requested an ISIS flag be delivered to the café and at one point made hostages hold up a Shahada or Black Standard Islamic flag in the café windows.