Australian officials offered words of comfort and sympathy to a shocked nation after a 16-hour siege at a café in central Sydney ended with the death of two hostages on Tuesday.
Three people died, including the armed perpetrator, when police commandos stormed the Lindt café in Martin Place in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Six people, including hostages and police officers, were injured during the raid; however, all are in stable condition according to authorities.
“Those poor people who went into get a cup of coffee or buy some chocolates for a friend for Christmas got caught up in this terrible situation,” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. “It’s a truly shocking thing to happen in our city because our city is a very harmonious, socially diverse, welcoming and inclusive city.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott extended condolence to the victims’ families during a national address on Tuesday morning and also commended the public for being “resilient” and “ready to respond” during the crisis.
Earlier in the day, Abbott ordered flags across the country to be flown at half-mast.
Australian officials are meanwhile faced with daunting questions about how the gunman, Man Haron Monis, was able to obtain a firearm and remain at liberty after having several run-ins with the law. The self-declared sheik had reportedly been charged with committing an estimated 40 sexual assaults while being a so-called “spiritual healer.” Monis was also on bail and facing charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
“There will need to be tough questions about whether our systems for identifying potential perpetrators of terrorist crimes like this are good enough,” Rory Medcalf, security-program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, tells TIME. “Questions will be asked why this particular individual was able to commit this act while on bail for serious crimes.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reports that a recently passed bail law in New South Wales, which could have prevented an individual with a record on par with the gunman from remaining on the streets, is set to go in effect early next year.
The fact that it was not in force to prevent this tragedy is “frustrating for me as attorney general, frustrating for the premier, frustrating for the entire government, frustrating for the entire NSW community,” said Brad Hazzard, the New South Wales attorney general, according to ABC.
Analysts warned that the acts of a crazed lone gunman should not be used as political fodder to tighten the current government’s stringent policy toward asylum seekers trying to enter the country. (Monis was granted political asylum by Australia in 1996 after fleeing Iran.)
“Australia was founded by foreigners,” said Clarke Jones, a terrorism expert at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. “I hope we continue to take other nationalities into Australia. It makes it a much more interesting and healthy, wealthy place.”
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