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Sydney cafe siege victims remembered

December 23, 2014

Ceremonies have been held in Sydney, Australia, for the people killed in a hostage-taking at a cafe last week. The Australian prime minister has spoken of increased "terrorist chatter" following the siege.

A photo tribute to Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson is seen amongst the flowers at Martin Place on December 23, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images
Image: Don Arnold/Getty Images

Memorial ceremonies were held in the Australian city of Sydney on Tuesday for two people killed in a siege on an inner-city cafe last week in which 17 hostages were held for hours by an Iranian-born gunman, who also died.

The funeral service for cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, took place in a church only a few hundred meters (yards) from the cafe, and was attended by relatives, friends and several of the surviving hostages.

Reports say that Johnson was killed as he tried to wrest a weapon from the gunman, Man Haron Monis, who had a history of extremism and violence.

A separate memorial service was held for the other victim, lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38, at Sydney University, her alma mater. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of mourners.

Thousands of bouquets of flowers brought by mourners over the past week to Martin Place, where the cafe is situated, have meanwhile been removed ahead of a predicted thunderstorm. After consultation with the families of the victims, they are to be mulched for possible use at a permanent memorial that officIals plan to set up.

Longtime criminal

Monis, 50, a self-styled cleric with a long criminal record, held the hostages in the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at gunpoint for 16 hours on December 15, forcing some of them to hold up a black flag with an Arabic inscription to the window and demanding to speak with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He was killed when police stormed the cafe. Investigations into what happened in the final moments of the siege and how all three died are underway.

If no one claims Monis' body, he will receive a pauper's burial, reports said. Several Muslim funeral officers have refused to take on the task.

Attack 'likely'

The Australian prime minister has meanwhile spoken of increased "terrorist chatter" following the siege, and said another attack was considered likely.

"A briefing from the security agencies today indicated that there has been a heightened level of terrorist chatter in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege," Abbott said after a meeting of the National Security Committee on Tuesday.

"We don't know when and how an attack may come, but we do know there are people with the intent and the capability to carry out further attacks," he said, adding that an attack was "likely" given the high threat level.

Australia has not officially categorized the hostage-taking as a terrorist attack.

Police have said they will be deploying extra forces to prominent sites in Sydney over the Christmas period.

Australia raised its terror alert level to high in September, meaning that a terrorist attack is seen as likely. This came amid a series of counter-terrorism raids after a number of its nationals travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with "Islamic State" and other jihadist groups.

tj/es (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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