Australians have been laying flowers at the scene of a deadly hostage siege that ended with a police operation and the death of three people, including the hostage-taker, in Sydney.

Crowds have gathered at the site of the incident in Martin Place as social media have been flooded with expressions of fear and dismay and pictures of the city harbour and skyline.

Most of the hostages escaped but the cafe manager, 34, and a 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-three died in Monday's operation while six more people were injured, including three women with bullet wounds.

The attack was staged by Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, who also died in the incident.

who was MAN HARON MONis?

 

- 50 year old Iranian refugee who moved to Australia 

- Was facing charges for being an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife

- Also faced more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault 

- Was convicted to 300 hours of community service for sending hate letters to families of dead Australian soldiers

Andrew  Scipione, New South Wales (NSW) police commissioner, said there had been 17 hostages in total. 

The hostage crisis had begun early on Monday and lasted around 16 hours.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, has called the incident a "sick fantasy of a deeply disturbed individual".

Abbott said questions should be asked about why the attacker was allowed to be free.

"How can someone, who has had such a long and chequered history, not be on the appropriate watch lists and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community," he said.

"These are questions we need to look at carefully, calmly and methodically to learn the right lessons and to act upon them." 

Flags on all government buildings were ordered to be flown at half-mast following the incident.

"I will ride with you," read some notes attached to bouquets in Martin Place, referring to the campaign for solidarity with the Muslim community that has seen tens of thousands use the hashtag #illridewithyou.

The hostage crisis came after Australia joined the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group after an appeal by US President Barack Obama several months ago.

Australia has deployed a squadron of fighter jets and hundreds of troops to the Middle East.

The Australian government had raised the terror warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of ISIL.

Two weeks later, a known suspect was shot dead by police in Melbourne after he tried to attack police officers with a knife.

Counterterrorism law enforcement teams later conducted dozens of raids and made several arrests in Australia's three largest cities - Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

One man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an ISIL leader in Syria to behead a random person in downtown Sydney.

ISIL, which now holds a third of Syria and Iraq, has threatened Australia in the past.

In September, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an ISIL spokesperson, issued an audio message urging "lone wolf" attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia.

The Lindt cafe is located at the Elizabeth Street end of Martin Place. Next door, is the Reserve Bank of Australia. Directly opposite the cafe are the TV studios for Australian broadcaster Channel 7. The New South Wales Parliament was evacuated as well as the nearby Supreme Court building. Other major buildings nearby include the world famous Sydney Opera House. [Google Maps]




Source: Al Jazeera and agencies