NEW YORK (TheStreet)--Police in riot gear stormed the cafe where a lone gunman had held patrons hostage for 16 hours, ending a siege originally feared to be terror attack, according to various TV and digital media reports. Two hostages and the gunman were reported killed, and at least three were injured.
The gunman, identified as Iranian refugee and self-declared Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, had released several hostages throughout the seige, and at least 6 more escaped moments before the police raid.
At around 2:00 a.m. local time, police raided the Lindt Chocolate shop in a hail of heavy gunfire and loud bangs from stun grenades and overtook the gunman, who had been using a human shield to protect from sniper shots.
After the raid, medics took away several of the injured on stretchers.
In a video, the gunman had a hostage state his demands, which included a phone call from Australia prime minister Tony Abbott to speak with the hostage-taker on live TV.
Two people were reported dead in some early reports following siege.
The gunman was reportedly facing multiple charges of sexual assault as part of his role as a self-proclaimed spiritual healer.
In 2012, he was found guilty of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in protest to Australia's involvement in the war, according to local media reports.
Reports of the hostage situation flooded the global media Sunday, with reports through the night that there were as many as 40 hostages in the cafe. TV news was rife with video images of the hostages, hands pressed to the cafe windows for hours, holding up an Islamic sign written in Arabic.
Authorities shared little information about the gunman or his demands.
As a precaution, armed police had shut down the business district in central Sydney where the shop is located.
The local stock exchange and the U.S. consulate were among buildings evacuated, and police sealed off surrounding streets, suspending rail service in the area, where several major banks are located.
New South Wales' premier and police commissioner conducted a press conference late Sunday, and stated that the motive for the siege and the gunman's demands were unknown. They noted that the incident hadn't been escalated to a "terrorist event," and said they hadn't been able to make contact with anyone in the cafe, including the gunman.
The country has been on its highest terror alert since Sept., after taking steps to quash terror financing and speaking out against militant groups.