Top Stories for Monday, December 15, 2014

ISIS Sympathizer Kills Two in Hostage Standoff in Sydney

From UK Daily Mail, “Faces of the hostages”: “Eleven hostages were accounted for after the police raid shortly after 2am. Five hostages had already escaped earlier on Monday afternoon.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said police entered the building after they heard gunfire and feared hostages had been hit.

‘They made the call because they believed at that time if they didn’t enter it would have been many more lives lost,’ Mr Scipione said.

‘I understand there was a number of gunshots that were heard, which caused officers to move straight to what we call an EA – emergency action plan – and that caused them to enter.’

A crime scene is still set up in and around the Lindt cafe as investigations continue.

The siege has prompted police to have a 24 hour presence in public places and transport hubs over the Christmas and New Year period.

Seven Network reporter Chris Reason, who was watching the siege unfold from his newsroom across the road, said some of the hostages broke free after Monis attempted to usher the hostages from one side of the café to the other.

One man emerged from the cafe with his hands up and lay down on the ground in front of police. Seconds later, a group of at least five hostages escaped from the cafe.

It is believed that Monis then fired his shotgun, killing one of his captives. This appeared to be the trigger for tactical police to move in.

Within seconds, they had blasted through the cafe door and opened fire with automatic weapons, also hurling what appeared to be stun grenades. The sounds of explosions echoed through the city and the flashes of rifle fire and grenades lit up the area.

The gunfight lasted less than two minutes and more hostages emerged after the police raid. As the scene calmed down, a bomb disposal robot was seen entering the cafe.”

From CBS DC, “Police: Multiple Fatalities, Injuries In Sydney Cafe Siege”: “The siege of a downtown Sydney cafe where a a suspected Iranian-born Islamic extremist had been holding numerous hostages ended early Tuesday morning local time after police raided the building.

The suspect, who first took the cafe during Monday morning rush hour, was identified by police as local Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, who had taken to calling himself “Sheikh Haron.” It was not clear if he was killed by police or a self-inflicted gunshot wound…

There is no known connection between Monis and any potential plot in the U.S., a law enforcement source told CBS News.

Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for writing offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He has been out on bail on the charges.

A U.S. intelligence source confirmed to CBS News that the man was known to authorities in the country and has been arrested previously for extremist activity.

“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 former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness.”

Monis was originally a Shiite, the national religion of his native Iran, but appeared to be somehow in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni extremist group that has frequently targeted Shiites in its campaign.”

Russia Raises Interest Rate to 17%

From Bloomberg, “Russia Defends Ruble With Biggest Rate Rise Since 1998”: Russia took its biggest step yet to shore up the ruble and defuse the currency crisis threatening its stricken economy.

In a surprise announcement just before 1 a.m. in Moscow, the Russian central bank said it would raise its key interest rate to 17 percent from 10.5 percent, effective today. The move was the largest single increase since 1998, when Russian rates soared past 100 percent and the government defaulted on debt.”