Margaret Eby
Updated Dec 15, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

Today, our hearts are with the people of Sydney after a horrifying hostage situation in a public café. Customers at the Lindt Chocolate Café, located in a busy shopping area in Sydney, were held hostage for sixteen hours on Monday by a gunman. After a stand-off that lasted throughout the day, commandos from the Australian police force stormed the cafe, ending the siege. What happened is terrifying and tragic—and no matter where you live, the incident hits close to home.

Police were called at 9:45 am Monday morning to the Lindt Café where a man, later identified as Iranian refugee Man Haron Monis, pulled a gun out of a sports bag and held the patrons of the shop hostage. The gunman demanded to meet the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. A black flag with Arabic writing was hung in the café window. The flag appeared to have “There is no God by Allah; Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah,” written on it.

Six hours into the ordeal, five of the seventeen hostages managed to escape from the cafe into a waiting embankment of police officers. Several hours later, several more hostages manage to flee. The siege ended when heavily armed policemen stormed the café. Tragically, two hostages, along with the gunman, died in the process. Others were reportedly taken to local hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries.

In the midst of the siege, many Australians took to social media to ensure that the Arabic writing on the gunman’s flag wouldn’t spark a backlash against the country’s Muslim community using the hashtag #Illridewithyou. The hashtag campaign was launched after a woman who saw a fellow train rider taking off her hijab during the siege, ran to comfort her. She posted the story on Facebook and later on Twitter, offering to ride with anyone who was fearful of religious intolerance due to the hostage crisis. Hours later, over 120,000 tweets offering solidarity with the Muslim community sprung up on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the incident has sparked fears about ISIS activity in Australia. Like many other Western nations, Australia has seen several of its citizens move to the Middle East to join extremist Islam organizations like ISIS. The government said that there are roughly 60 Australians fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Australia has been bracing for a possible attack on its home soil since September, when it raised the terror alert from “medium” to “high.” During the same month, the country staged an enormous counterterrorism operation, arresting 15 people suspected to be working with ISIS or similar organizations.

As for the hostage incident, local police are urging residents to remain calm in the face of the crisis.

“This was an isolated incident,” New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said, according to USA Today. “This should never destroy or change the way of our life.”

(Image via, via)