Sniper's call ignited hostage battle

Tim Clarke
A hostage is taken from the Lindt cafe in Martin Place, Sydney. Picture: Getty

"Window two, hostage down."

Such a brief phrase to signal such a significant event.

It signalled the death of an innocent man, cafe manager Tori Johnson, whose extraordinary bravery in trying to disarm his kidnapper twice emerged last night.

It signalled the sanction of lethal force against a violent, extremist, Islamic identity.

And it signalled the end of a terrifying ordeal for people thrown together by terror and now bonded for ever by one of Australia's most anxious days.

The words came just after 2am from a sniper in the Seven Network newsroom, who had his sights trained on Man Haron Monis for hours.

Monis was the man with the flag and the gun - the unstable, criminal and fanatical Iranian cleric whose propensity for violence and outlandish statements drove him to an unthinkable resolution.

He walked into Lindt Chocolate Cafe 17 hours earlier on a busy Monday morning and told all inside they were not going anywhere.

One by one, they had to stand at the windows and parade their fear and that flag.

As Monis knew it would, it grabbed immediate and fearful attention. For the rest of the day and into the night, Australia watched, waited, hoped.

Also waiting was the NSW Police tactical operations unit, the State's best of the best.

They are highly trained and hugely well equipped - armed with "sound and flash" stun grenades, semiautomatic 223 assault rifles and pistols.

They have night-vision goggles and separate night-vision scopes. They wear armoured vests and medical kits and carry a ballistic shield and muesli bars.

And one of the things they are trained to do is wait.

One member - who could only be called J - told a magazine dedicated to Australian defence forces and law enforcement agencies in 2012 of their training for just such a dangerous incident.

"You are tested all day long with sleep deprivation, which is interesting enough on its own," J said.

"You are physically and mentally fatigued, almost to the point of complete exhaustion, but you are still expected to perform."

Perform they did, targeting, planning, negotiating and covering as first three, then two more hostages made breaks for freedom.

_The West Australian _understands one escape was possible when Mr Johnson tried to wrestle Monis' sawn-off shotgun from him, which resulted in a vicious beating.

Former Special Air Service Regiment soldier and now security expert Paul Jordan said a common siege tactic was to wear the hostage taker down - the tactic he believed police used on Monday and into yesterday.

"He's got about 20 hostages so how he is going to control and maintain them," Mr Jordan said.

"When he first entered the cafe his stress levels would have been through the roof, his heart rate would have been at around 120bpm or higher.

"But when it all settled, he would have gone into a slump. And just before the sun comes up is when people really tire."

As part of the lengthening watch, Seven News cameraman Greg Parker was allowed back into the building and he focused on the four windows of the cafe.

Seven News reporter Chris Reason was also let back into the newsroom with his colleague and was also watching - alongside the sniper.

"They decided to use it as a tool, a resource and that information was being relayed from here in the newsroom back to the police tactical operations, the senior officers making the decisions on where the police would go and what they would do," Reason said.

"It was useful information. They wanted everything they could get their hands on."

Monis had his own demands and made them through his hostages.

Newsrooms across Sydney got confronting, ominous calls from those inside the cafe but they refused to broadcast them - to Monis' growing anger.

Social media posts from hostages and their families then began broadcasting the same demands - deliver an Islamic State flag and deliver an online audience with the Prime Minister. Again, they were noted but not broadcast on advice from police, as with chilling video YouTube posts of four female hostages apparently filmed on Monis' iPad.

They appeared around midnight and, as Reason noted, Monis was by then getting more edgy and fatigued.

"He didn't know what to do with them," he said.

"He was sort of corralling them down one end and then down the other and moving around sort of randomly.

"And they were the group who made the break for freedom at three minutes past two. Shortly after that several minutes passed of silence . . . then we heard a loud shot ring out."

That was Monis' response to a second attempt by Mr Johnson to take the gun off him.

It was at window two and the hostage was down.

It cost Mr Johnson his life and the next 34 seconds will live in Sydney's history for ever.

Police stormed in both sides of the cafe, firing about 90 rounds to Monis' five.

A volley of stun grenades were used to disorientate and the assault rifles killed the 50-year-old self-styled sheikh.

Tragically, the gunfight also left lawyer and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, dead.

"These were decent, innocent people who got caught up in the sick fantasy of a deeply disturbed individual," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

"But everyone has been impressed by the speed of the NSW police response, the thoroughness of the preparations they made and the professionalism of the action they took once it became obvious people inside the cafe were being taken out by this deluded and sick individual.

"And every Sydneysider can feel quietly proud of the way this city handled the most difficult 36 hours in our history."