Australian police in Sydney ended a hostage situation at a chocolate shop with a barrage of gunfire shortly after 2 a.m. local time Tuesday.
The tense hostage standoff, which lasted 16 hours, ended when heavily armed police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Café in the heart of the city's financial center, leaving three people dead. According to Reuters, one of the dead people included the gunman, identified by police as Man Haron Monis, 50, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh facing multiple charges of sexual assault.
"There's no operational reason for that name to be held back by us now," an unidentified police source told Reuters in regards to confirming the gunman's name.
The police raid, which played out live on Australian TV, showed a group of about six hostages running from the café. According to USA Today, police swarmed the building to the pops of gunfire and smoke grenades.
"The sound ricocheted throughout the tall buildings around the area... and hostages started pouring out of the building," said Siobhan Heanue, a reporter from Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Some running, some able to walk, some with their hands up, and some being carried by ambulance staff."
Heanue added that the volley of gunfire and loud explosions were followed by screams and more explosions.
Before the police raid, Reuters reported that at least five hostages were released or escaped on Monday, with terrified café workers and customers running to safety.
USA Today reported that the standoff shut down government offices, public transit and schools in downtown Sydney as the situation dragged through the day. The business district of the city experienced a virtual shutdown.
According to Reuters, Australian news footage showed hostages holding up a black and white flag displaying the Shahada, which is a testament to the faith of Muslims. The flag has been used mostly by Sunni Islamist militant groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS.
Adam Dolnik, a professor at an Australian university who has trained Sydney police in hostage negotiations, thinks that the gunman is a lone wolf.
"We're possibly looking at a lone wolf who has sympathies to global jihad or someone with mental health issues in search of a cause," Dolnik said. "This is all about attention."
The Australian National Imams Council issued a statement alongside the Grand Mufti of Australia in condemning the Sydney attack.
"We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to still fear or terror into their hearts," the statement said. "We remind everyone that the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement, but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves."
Reuters noted that the hostage situation was the biggest security operation in Sydney since a bombing at the Hilton Hotel killed two people back in 1978. The incident also comes at a time of heightened terror alert levels in Australia, which were raised back in September in response to a domestic threat posed by ISIS supporters, according to USA Today.