SYDNEY – A hostage siege in Sydney that began Monday morning and ended with a police raid 16 hours later unfolded before the world through a stream of nail-biting images.
The photos of the standoff in a cafe that left three people dead — the gunman and two hostages — and four others wounded captured Australia's biggest city on edge.
Hostages scrambled toward safety. Heavily armed police surrounded the cafe. People evacuated office buildings. Medical workers wheeled away a hostage toward an ambulance.
Local media identified the gunman as Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan.
The standoff began around 9:45 a.m. Monday when police were called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's financial district after they heard gunfire. Many of the people inside were holiday shoppers.
Television footage showed images of several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the windows. The footage also revealed two people inside holding a black flag with an Islamic declaration of faith written on it.
A major police operation ensued. Streets were closed, officials asked the public to stay away and offices were evacuated. Heavily armed officers gathered outside.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledged on national television that the police response would be thorough for what he called "a deeply concerning incident."
Six hours later, three men escaped from the cafe's fire exit. Two women followed about an hour later, sprinting from the same exit and into police arms.
One of the hostages was taken to a hospital and was in satisfactory condition. He was treated for a pre-existing condition.
As the drama dragged into its 10th hour, Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said police were conducting a "sensitive negotiation" that required discretion.
The standoff finally ended when a loud bang was heard from the cafe and five people ran out. Shortly after, police moved in amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes.
A police spokesman confirmed "the operation is over."
To see how the 16-hour siege unfolded visually, have a look at this series of 16 images.