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The man who seized hostages inside Lindt cafe in Sydney, Australia, has been identified by police as Man Haron Monis.

The self-styled Muslim cleric was born in Iran and sought political asylum in Australia in 1996.

Man Haron Monis is well known to the Australian police and is currently on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

He is also facing more than 40 s**ual and indecent assault charges.

These relate to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” who dealt with so-called black magic at a premises in western Sydney, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Man Haron Monis has previously been convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of deceased Australian soldiers.

There are reports that one of his demands is that an Islamic State flag be delivered to the Lindt cafe in Martin Place.Man Haron Monis Sydney siege gunman

However, Man Haron Monis has no known links to jihadist groups, and commentators have suggested he is likely to be working alone.

Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, also known as Sheikh Haron and Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, wrote on his website that he used to be Shia but is no longer.

He said he “used to be a Rafidi, but not any more”, using a pejorative term that some hard-line Sunni Muslims use to refer to Shias.

Man Haron Monis denied the criminal charges against him, saying they were politically motivated. He compared the accusations of sexual assault against him to the case of Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

His website had been suspended by the time his identity was revealed in the media in connection with the siege.

Man Haron Monis’ former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told ABC News that Monis was an isolated figure.

“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” he said.

Manny Conditsis, who represented Man Haron Monis in 2013 when he was charged with being accessory to the murder of ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal, said he thought the suspect might feel “he’s got nothing to lose”.

“Hence participating in something as desperate and outrageous as this,” he said.

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Police have stormed Sydney’s Lindt cafe, ending a 16-hour siege by a gunman identified as an Iranian refugee who took dozens of hostages.

Paramedics carrying stretchers raced towards the cafe moments after the commandos entered the building. Several people were injured.

Unconfirmed local reports say two people, including the gunman, died.

The centre of the city has been in lockdown since the gunman seized the hostages early on Monday morning.

Early in the siege, hostages were forced to hold up a black Islamic banner at the window.

The cafe is located in Martin Place, a busy shopping area in Sydney’s financial district.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said it was “profoundly shocking” that people were being “held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation”.

Shortly after 2AM local time on December 16, several hostages fled from the building.Man Haron Monis Sydney siege

Minutes later, army commandos with assault rifles and wearing helmets and body armor could be seen piling into the cafe, tossing stun grenades ahead of them, and apparently opening fire.

Hostages ran to safety with their hands in the air. A man and a woman were seen being carried to safety by emergency services.

New South Wales police announced the end of the siege at 02:44AM local time in a tweet, promising details later.

The commandos who stormed the building were from the Royal Australian Regiment.

As many as 40 customers and staff were taken hostage. Five managed to escape through a fire exit on Monday afternoon.

Suspected gunman Man Haron Monis, 49, received political asylum in Australia in 1996 and was on bail facing a number of charges.

On a website, now suspended, Man Haron Monis describes himself as a Shia Muslim who converted to Sunni Islam.

The self-styled cleric was described by his former lawyer as an isolated figure.

One of Man Haron Monis’ demands was to have a flag of Islamic State, the Sunni militant group which recently seized territory in Syria and Iraq, to be delivered to the cafe.

Martin Place is home to the state premier’s office and the headquarters of major banks.

At the nearby Sydney Opera House, evening performances were cancelled as shops and offices in the area shut early due to the security situation.

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Staff and customers at a Lindt cafe in Sydney, Australia, are being held hostage by a gunman.

The Lindt cafe in the city centre is surrounded by armed police. Officers have made contact with the gunman.

Five people have been seen running from the building. It is not clear how many remain inside. A black Islamic flag has been displayed at the window.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said it was “profoundly shocking” that people were being “held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation”.

He was speaking after chairing a meeting of the national security committee in Canberra.

Earlier Tony Abbott said: “Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society – nothing should ever change that and that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”

Senior police officers say they are on a footing “consistent with a terrorist event”.

The incident began as people were arriving for work in Martin Place on December 15. Witnesses saw a man with a bag and gun walk into the Lindt chocolate shop and cafe.

Lindt said about 10 employees and 30 customers were thought to be inside at the time. Nearby offices were evacuated and police asked people to remain indoors and away from open windows.

An enormous police operation is in place, on a scale few Sydney residents will have seen.

About six hours into the siege, three people were seen running from the building housing the cafe. Two more people followed about an hour later. It is not clear whether they escaped or were released.

New South Wales Police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn said: “Those people are now being assessed to make sure their health is okay and then police will talk to them.”

“Our approach is to resolve this peacefully. It might take a bit of time but that is our priority,” she added.

Police negotiators were in contact with the gunman, Catherine Burn confirmed. The suspect also contacted local media and reportedly issued demands.

In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said it was “deeply concerned over this serious incident”.Sydney Lindt cafe siege

An armed man wearing a backpack and a bandana could be seeing walking around inside the cafe.

TV footage showed at least three people, thought to be employees and who were visibly distressed, holding up to the window a black flag bearing the declaration of Islamic faith, which reads: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”

The flag is similar to those used by jihadist groups, but is different from the one used by Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Martin Place is home to the state premier’s office and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is also only a few streets away.

Australia – which has sent fighter jets to join the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq – raised its terror threat level in September.

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