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Northern Ireland woman's lockdown nightmare in Sydney cafe siege mayhem

By Donna Deeney

A Northern Ireland woman watched in horror as heavily armed security forces surrounded the cafe in Sydney where an Iranian refugee was holding a number of people hostage.

The siege was later to end in a spectacular gunfight, explosions and death.

Three people - including the gunman and two hostages - were reported killed last night with several others, including a police officer, wounded.

Seventeen hostages were freed in the operation, which began after the self-styled Islamic preacher who was well-known to police apparently started shooting.

The gunman was named as Man Haron Monis. He received political asylum in Australia in 1996 and was on bail facing a number of charges.

Patrina Cooke (24), who has been living and working just streets away from the Lindt Chocolate cafe in the Martin Street area of Sydney's financial district, said she was petrified by the scenes which unfolded before her eyes.

She said: "I walk past the cafe every day going to work and if I stand at the bottom of my street I can see where the incident took place.

"Our area, which is just a block from where the attack took place, was totally shut down.

"We had to close our business and leave everything inside."

Patrina said she and others were hemmed in during the unfolding emergency, which lasted all day and into the night.

"Unable to move from the vicinity, we were advised to stay away from glass bottles and things like that.

"We just didn't know how it was going to turn out."

Patrina added: "I was pretty much petrified. We saw helicopters hovering; there were Swat cars and guns.

"My first thought was to ring my sister to make sure she knew I was OK.

"It was a dramatic scene outside. I had to wait for a while until it was safe enough to move.

Patrina said the whole episode was like a movie scene. "It's something I never would have thought I would see."

She has only been in Australia for two months, having left her home in Strabane in October along with a friend and a cousin to find work in Australia.

Despite the time difference between Australia and Northern Ireland, Patrina immediately contacted her family back home when the hostage drama began. They then switched on their television sets and saw the horrifying scenes unfold live from Sydney.

Patrina explained: "My best friend and cousin are out here with me and I also rang them to make sure they would not come into town because the whole city was in lockdown.

"I contacted my mother and father but they were in bed and were none the wiser about the situation, but I knew they were aware of where I worked and would be worried when it popped up on TV that there was a terrorist attack in Sydney."

The area targeted by the gunman is home to many banks and financial institutions.

It's also home to the official residence of the New South Wales State Premier.

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