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Sydney siege: Australia pays tribute to victims killed in Martin Place Lindt cafe shootout

Australia was waking up to digest the events of a 17-hour siege, in a Lindt Cafe on Sydney's Martin Place, that resulted in the loss of three lives.

Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-two who worked in Sydney's central business district was named locally as one of the victims, alongside Tori Johnson, a 34-year-old café manager.

Both were killed after armed officers stormed the Lindt Café in the heart of Sydney’s business district, fearful that the prospect of doing nothing could have resulted in more loss of life.

“They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn’t enter, there would have been many more lives lost,” Andrew Scipione, commissioner of New South Wales police, said. He added that the decision to act, which caught many off-guard, was triggered after apparent escape of five hostages was followed by gunshots.

The 50-year-old "lone gunman" driving the hostage crisis was Iranian refugee Man Horan Monis, who was also pronounced dead in hospital.

Even before his death it emerged Monis was anything but a so-called ‘cleanskin’. His history with authorities dated back years, having once been prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan. He was also banned in 2010 from sending "letters of condolence" to the families of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monis had "a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability."

As dawn rose over Sydney on Tuesday, tributes to the victims started to pour in. "Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends" Jane Needham, president of the New South Wales Bar Association, said in a statement.

More are expected later today once the victims are officially named.

In the meantime flags were lowered to half-staff on Sydney Harbour Bridge, an act copied around the country, while the state’s premier expressed disbelief that the attack could happen in Australia — a place he dubbed "a peaceful, harmonious society which is the envy of the world."

So far 17 hostages have been accounted for, including at least five others who were released or escaped on Monday. The area near the cafe remains cordoned off, while bystanders and passing office workers left flowers under police tape.

Muslim leaders urged calm and asked that the event, which will almost certainly have ramifications on national security policy, was not seen as indicative of anything other than one ideologically warped gunman acting alone .

The Australian National Imams Council condemned "this criminal act unequivocally" in a joint statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.

Meanwhile leaders from around the world had expressed their concern over the siege, including Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, which suffered an attack on its parliament by a suspected jihadist sympathizer in October.

For its part, executives at Lindt, the decadent Swiss chocolate brand which saw its café transform from a scene of morning coffees into the battleground of one of the most terrifying episodes of Australian history, issued a statement saying it was "profoundly saddened and deeply affected about the death of innocent people." "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," a statement from the Swiss company Lindt & Sprugli said.

Time will tell how Australia responds to a tragedy of this magnitude. But yesterday fear and grief were already hardening into a sense of stoicism. "In the past 24 hours, this city has been shaken by a tragedy that none of us could have ever imagined," Australia’s Premier Mike Baird said. "The values we held dear yesterday we hold dear today.

“They are the values of freedom, democracy, and harmony. These defined us yesterday, they will define us today, they will define us tomorrow."

READ MORE: Two hostages and gunman dead


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