– by Hanifa Abdiraihan
“To a safer society in Australia!” a Perthian tweeted today as part of the hashtag #IllRideWithYou.
#IllRideWithYou is an unprecedented move started by Sydneysiders to give those wearing religious attire and fearing backlash from the Sydney Siege some peace of mind by offering to travel with them. The movement has since spread throughout Australia.
It comes as major Australian media outlets widely explore the possibilities of a link between the Lindt Café incident and ISIS, noting that Martin Place was one place where radicals allegedly called for public beheadings to be carried out.
It is now generally understood that the situation involves at least one man, who walked armed into Martin Place’s Lindt Café at around 9.45 am and has since kept roughly 15 people under hostage. Five have fled safely, including three café employees; it is yet unknown if they escaped or were product of police negotiations.
The middle-aged gunman has been identified as Man Haron Monis, 49. It is becoming more likely that he is acting alone. News channels have noted that, unusually, he has let hostages send text messages to their families. Interestingly, he has also directed hostages to contact the ABC – and not the police – to list his demands.
Hostages were made to stand against the window, some while holding a black and white flag with the Arabic shahadah, the universally used Muslim pledge.
When asked about motive during a press conference today, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione replied, “There are many out there that would be surmising – in fact there would be many out there that are guessing, and at this stage we are not in the business of speculating, we are in the business of investigating.”
He also said, “Clearly reprisal attacks are something that should not happen. At this stage, we need to let everyone just settle down.”
The NSW Police Force also issued a statement this morning, asking for “responsible” reporting from the media to keep the calm.
However, even as the first day of the Sydney Siege is ending, the event remains a jarring one. As much as there have been answers, there have also been new questions.
A series of videos purporting to be recordings of the hostages reciting the perpetrator’s demands, including the delivery of an ISIS flag to the café, has been circulating on YouTube. All are yet to be authenticated.
The Muslim community has strongly condemned Haron’s actions. Earlier today, masses congregated at Lakemba Mosque, the biggest place of Muslim worshipping in Australia, to hold a vigil for the events unfolding at Martin Place. Religious leaders were in attendance, including a Jewish rabbi and a Christian priest.
“I feel upset, obviously – we [Muslims] have to repair the damage every time this kind of thing happens,” educator Silma Irham told Channel 9’s A Current Affair, echoing the sentiments of the many hundred stationed at the mosque.
She emphasised, however, that ensuring the welfare of the involved hostages were “what [was] important”.
Photo credit: Still from NSW Premier Baird and Police Commissioner Scipione’s 8.30 pm press conference
Martin Place Sydney Exclusion Zone map from NSW Police Force Facebook