Sydney Hostages Deliver Message via YouTube Videos

Dec 15, 2014 at 8:23 AM ET

Four videos containing messages from hostages in the ongoing standoff in the Lindt chocolate café in Sydney have been uploaded to YouTube briefly. In the messages, the alleged hostages laid out their kidnapper’s list of demands, while standing in front of a black jihadi flag and a Lindt café logo.

One of the four women in the videos appears to match one of the hostages that has been seen in footage caught by news networks on the scene—she is seen in the YouTube video wearing the same clothes. The last video shows a hostage saying: “Our ISIS brother has been very kind to us.”

The assailant had reportedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to relay his demands first to a handful of local Australian media outlets, and eventually resorted to YouTube videos. The four videos each feature Australian female hostages reading from a script, in which they ask for a blanket broadcast from the media stating that the situation is an Islamic State attack on Australia. The captor, identified by police as Iranian-born cleric Man Haron Monis, also demanded that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot contact him via a “live feed,” at which point five hostages would be released, and requested that a black Islamic flag be sent into the building. The videos, also claimed that three bombs had been placed in the central business district (CBD). Australian police said that the videos “haven’t been verified” and requested that media not publish them at this point. A New South Wales police spokesperson would not comment on the allegations of three bombs in the CBD, but said that earlier claims of bombs by the assailant had been completely ruled out.

The YouTube account appears to belong to one of the hostages, but all four videos posted were almost immediately taken down, and Australian media are adhering to a self-imposed blackout. Social media users have already created a Facebook group, “Bring Back Joel Herat,” to advance efforts to free Joel Herat, who, according to his Facebook account, is a student from Sydney.

Australian police locked down the center of Sydney after an armed man walked into the café in the city’s financial district, taking the visitors as hostages and forcing them to display a black flag with Arabic text (partially translated as: “There is no God but Allah”) on the window of the café. Five people, two men and three women, managed to escape the café. At the time of publication, it is estimated that around 15 people are still being held hostage, though the exact number remains uncertain.