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Nightmare brings disbelief to Sydney

By Agencies in Sydney | China Daily | Updated: 2014-12-16 08:01

Threat comes to roost in Australia despite heightened security measures

It is one of the most popular cafes on a thoroughfare that is thronged at this time of year with festive shoppers, in addition to everyday office crowds and tourists.

But on Monday, a pre-Christmas nightmare played out inside the Lindt cafe on Sydney's Martin Place. Outside the crowds had evaporated, replaced by police lines and tension, as businesses shut early.

"It's kind of shocking for everyone," said local worker Goldie Jamshidi near the chocolate-themed cafe where a gunman had taken several people hostage, brandishing an Islamic banner above a Lindt store sign and the words "Merry Christmas".

"I came to work and then I found out that this incident had happened," she said.

Officers wearing black SWAT-style uniforms had earlier taken up position, eyes staring down rifle sights. Some onlookers took photos to post on social media, others shook their heads in disbelief.

Australia had long seemed far removed from the hubs of Islamist extremism. But the Lindt hostage-taker's use of the Islamic banner lent weight to suspicions that the threat had come home to roost despite a stepped-up security posture of late.

'Lone wolf' attacks

The government in September raised its terror threat level and police conducted raids across the country. Authorities fretted that dozens of Australians who have fought alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria could return home and inflict "lone wolf" attacks.

"It's kind of overwhelming, especially after the drama a few months ago about the talk of a beheading at Martin Place," said office worker Rebecca Courtney.

That referred to an order purportedly issued by the most senior Australian recruited by Islamic State for "demonstration killings" in Australia, including beheading a random member of the public.

At that time in October, the government urged young Australians not to become radicalized as it defended new "foreign fighter" legislation designed to prevent citizens from traveling overseas to take part in conflicts.

"It's sad to think this is my home and that it could happen anywhere," Courtney said.

Marian Chung, general manager of a tourist outlet selling stuffed kangaroos and koalas and which is a stopping point for organized tours, said "all the shops around us are closed for safety".

"But we can't close as some of our customers are from overseas and they have bookings here."

Pressures trade

Traders in currency markets said the hostage news may have contributed to a dip in the Australian dollar, which was already under pressure from global risk aversion as oil prices fell anew.

One business accused of profiteering from the hostage crisis was web-based taxi firm Uber, which is no stranger to controversy around the world.

Initially, Uber was said to have begun charging passengers four times regular fares with a minimum charge of $82 to leave Sydney's central business district. "What a shameful disgrace", wrote Twitter user Tyson Armstrong.

The company later issued a statement saying it "will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely" and that it was "in the process of refunding rides".

AFP - Xinhua - Reuters

 Nightmare brings disbelief to Sydney

Six hours into the crisis, police help one of the hostages who managed to escape from the besieged Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's central business district on Monday. Rob Griffith/ Associated Press

(China Daily 12/16/2014 page12)

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