Aussies back #IllRideWithYou tweets
Australians have reached out to support Muslim commuters as the Sydney hostage crisis stretches into the night.
Officials will not say how many people are still being held in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney, which was seized by an armed man at the height of the morning rush-hour, though five people have made it to safety.
A black flag with Arabic writing was held in the window of the cafe soon after the attack began, fuelling speculation that it was the work of an Islamic extremist.
The flag appears to be a Shahada flag, which bears an inscription which means: "There is no god but God, and Mohamed is the messenger of God".
As news of the crisis spread, Sydneysider Rachael Jacobs wrote on Facebook: "...and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab".
She added: "I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u'. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute - then walked off alone".
The hashtag #IllRideWithYou has since been trending on Twitter in Sydney and other major Australian cities, with public transport users offering to act as buddies for anyone who might be too nervous to appear in public wearing religious garb.
Tens of thousands of Twitter users have already offered their support.
It's believed Twitter user "SirTessa" was the first to suggest the initiative, writing: " If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule."
Others across Sydney and beyond were quick to join in.
Mia Lazzarini tweeted: "I'm in. If u wear religious garments & feel unsafe on public transport, I'll sit with u. Redfern-KX, peak hrs. #illridewithyou".
Another user, Polly Maeve, wrote: "I only ride a short distance to and from the city on the Belgrave/Lilydale/Alamain lines, but #illridewithyou. #racismstopswithme".
One user said he hoped to inscribe badges with the message, while others have begun printing labels bearing the hashtag and pinning them to bags and clothing.
Sydney-based lawyer and prominent Muslim woman Mariam Veiszadeh told the Press Association the movement was "heartwarming".
She was in a morning conference when news of the siege broke, and said she burst into tears when she learned there was a possible Islamist link: "I said, I'm sorry, and I know it's obvious, but I need to say these lunatics don't represent my faith."
She said she was unable to find a taxi to take her all the way home from work as demand surged in Sydney on Monday afternoon, but that another office worker - a stranger - insisted on driving her the final stretch to her door.
She said when symbols of the Islamic faith are co-opted by terrorists or criminals, "there tends to be an outpouring of support".
But she added: "It often unfortunately goes hand in hand with the vitriol that Muslims often get exposed to, and women often bear the brunt of that."