Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hostage taking in Sydney, Australia

News is breaking now from Sydney, Australia, where an apparent hostage-taking by a suspect - or suspects - who has/have unfurled an Islamist flag in the central business district is underway. News organizations and social media describe a major police activity in the downtown core, which is near the state parliament building.

Reports indicated at least 13, possibly as many as 20 hostages, may be inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe which is part of the Martin Place shopping complex. Reports are also circulating that the Sydney Opera House (map) which is only1.2 km from the site (map) of the hostage-taking (directions), is being evacuated as a precaution after a suspicious package was apparently seen on-site. The airspace above the city has also been closed to air traffic to allow law enforcement helicopters to operate unfettered.

My already-scheduled weekly CTV News Channel segment, Clicked In, with Scott Laurie, was quickly restructured to instead focus on the events unfolding in Sydney. We spoke about the role that technology plays in events like this, and how social media both helps and hinders law enforcement's efforts to bring things to a safe end.

[Deep breath.]

Update 1: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released the following statement:
"New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation.

This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner.

We will provide regular updates as further information becomes available."
Update 2: The PM will be holding a press conference at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 12:30 p.m. local time. Key comments from the press conference:
  • We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator. We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that this could be.
  • The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves
  • Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that's why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.
  • This is an unfolding situation and as the situation unfolds there will be operational updates provided by the NSW Police.
  • I want to assure people that the ordinary business of government must go on. And it will go on.
  • This is a very disturbing incident. I can understand the concerns and anxieties of the Australian people at a time like this.
  • I do urge everyone to exercise caution in their reporting.
Update 3 - 8:45pm - Reuters reporting the U.S. consulate near the cafe (map, directions) is being evacuated and an emergency warning has been issued to U.S. citizens urging them to "maintain high level of vigilance."

Update 4: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shared his thoughts via Twitter:
Foreign Minister John Baird has also weighed in:
Update 5: Mashable reporting Uber has implemented surge pricing in Sydney. Can we say ripoff?
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