Three dead as Sydney siege ends
Three people have died after a siege in a Sydney cafe came to a dramatic end when armed police stormed the building.
New South Wales Police said a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman were declared dead after being taken to hospital.
One of the hostages killed during the siege has been named by Australian media as Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old mother of two and barrister who worked in Sydney's central business district, while t he man shot in the siege has been named locally as Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, according to ABC.
The 50-year-old "lone gunman" at the heart of the 16-hour hostage crisis, Iranian refugee Man Horan Monis, was also pronounced dead in hospital.
Gunfire at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in central Sydney's busy Martin Place shopping area prompted police to move in just after 2am local time.
Four people were taken to hospital following the siege, including a police officer with facial wounds from gunshot pellets.
Police commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters in Australia's biggest city that 17 hostages had been accounted for in total, including five who escaped early in the attack.
Mr Scipione said: "This was an isolated incident, it is an isolated incident. Do not let this sort of incident bring about any loss of confidence about working or visiting in our city.
"It was the act of an individual. This should never change or destroy the way of our life. This won't change our lives, this will not change the things we hold dear in this country."
The officer said the Lindt cafe had been secured and no explosive devices were found.
He urged people not to "speculate" about what had happened, adding that police believed more lives could have been lost had they not taken action.
"Events that were unfolding inside the premises led them to the belief that now was the time to actually deploy, and they did," he said.
"I understand there were a number of gunshots that were heard, which caused officers to move towards an emergency action plan."
Local media reports suggested that commandos from the Royal Australian Regiment had entered the building after the gunman started firing shots.
In addition to the wounded police officer, two women were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries and one woman was taken as a precaution.
Police confirmed that a number of hostages had "traumatic injuries" and some had "medical conditions".
Uninjured hostages are now expected to be interviewed as part of a critical incident investigation by police.
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said: "Australians awoke to the news this morning that the siege in Martin Place had ended.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two deceased hostages, the wounded and the other hostages.
"I commend the courage and professionalism of the New South Wales Police and other emergency services involved."
Mr Abbott said Australia's national security committee would meet to review the incident.
Flags at government buildings will be flown at half-mast in the wake of the tragedy, prime minister Mr Abbott announced.
"I have instructed that the Australian National Flag be flown at half-mast today at all Commonwealth government buildings as a mark of respect and mourning for the innocent victims involved in the Martin Place siege," he said.
The end of the siege came soon after the hostage taker was named as self-styled Muslim cleric Monis.
Born Manteghi Bourjerdi, Monis arrived in Australia in 1996 as a refugee, changing his name to Man Haron Monis and assuming the title of Sheikh Haron.
He had attracted attention in recent years by writing offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Dubbed the "hate sheikh", he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for writing the letters.
He was also banned in 2010 from sending "letters of condolence" to the families of British soldiers killed in that conflict.
Monis was also reportedly on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and for a string of sex claims.
During the stand-off he was said to have demanded to have a flag of the Islamic State militant group delivered to the cafe.
But his former lawyer said he believed Monis had acted alone and was not part of a terrorist conspiracy.
Manny Conditsis told the ABC: "This is a one-off random individual. It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged goods individual who's done something outrageous.
"His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness."
Adam Houda, a well-known Sydney solicitor who had also represented Monis, described him as "mad as a cut snake".
Fearing a backlash against Muslims, Australians offered to transport them on public transport and showed their support on Twitter with the hashtag #illridewithyou.
Speaking to reporters in Poole, Prime Minister David Cameron said the hostage situation in Sydney demonstrated the risk from Islamic extremists across the world.
"It is obviously very concerning, what has taken place, albeit on the other side of the world but in a country very close to our hearts, and it is a reminder of the threat we face from Islamic extremist terror," he said.
Lindt & Sprungli, the company whose cafe was at the centre of the hostage crisis, said it was "profoundly saddened and deeply affected" by the death of innocent people.
"We are devastated by the loss of their lives and that several others were wounded and had to experience such trauma," the company said.
"Our thoughts and feelings are with the victims and their families who have been through an incredible ordeal, and we want to pay tribute to their courage and bravery."