ADFA Director of Heritage and Indigenous Affairs, Nineveh Yakou writes about witnessing 16 horrifying hours of a possible terrorist attack in Sydney

It’s 2am and after waking up from a nightmare, and scrolling through news articles and Facebook posts, I just read the words, “Police confirm Sydney siege is over”. The Lindt café in Martin Place has been under siege for 16 hours in total, but the last two hours have been the most harrowing. News reports revealed the identity of the gunman, a radical who was charged with being an accessory to murder and is currently on bail, a man who launched a ‘hate mail’ campaign, sending nasty letters to the families of Australian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Furthermore, we’ve seen videos on Youtube of hostages speaking from inside the café, describing the details of the gunman’s demands, one of which was an ISIS flag. But the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching footage were live scenes from the last few minutes of the siege. It felt like it happened in an instant…

A heartbeat…

A shot fired…

My heart stopped. A group of hostages burst out of the café, fear in their hearts, running for their lives, hands in the air, followed by several echoing gunfire blasts and images of police storming the building. After that, rapid gunfire, which continue to ring in my ears, and another group of hostages darting out of the cafe and away from danger. As I’m writing this, 3am now, news reports have confirmed three are dead, one believed to be the gunman, and its unknown if it was the gunman who shot the other two.

Dear God.

I don’t even know how to feel. I don’t think I can anymore. I’m just numb from all the anger and frustration built up over the past several months. My people suffering in the Homeland abroad, and now, my people suffering at home in Australia. It’s here. The terror threat is no longer a threat. It’s now a fact, and a date that will be engraved in Australian history. No authority is willing to confirm the gunman is connected to ISIS, and now that he has been killed and his mission was a failure, no terror group will want to claim responsibility.

Where does Australia go from here?

I can’t say I’m shocked. Because I’m desensitised to this horror, having seen so much worse happen to our people in Iraq. I can’t say I didn’t expect it, because I did, as soon as I saw an ISIS flag planted on the walls my ancestors built, in the city of my name sake, six months ago. What I can say is that my heart and my prayers go out to the hostages and their families, especially to those of the hostages who were killed. I hope they pull through this ordeal and come out stronger. I want us all to be stronger. We’ve seen an example of this already, with the hashtag #Illridewithyou, a beautiful gesture which has now gone viral. It’s an attempt to prevent hate crimes against the Muslim population. I also pray that Australians never experience this terror ever again. I hope the Australian government becomes more involved in eliminating the threat from its source and showing Australians that we won’t accept terror on our soil.

7000 Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, our Christian, Muslim, Mandean and Jewish brothers and sisters stood in that same spot where the siege took place, several months ago, to protest against the injustices committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but we were not heard. I can probably speak for the Assyrians living in Australia and say that our emotions during this ordeal are heightened. I know mine were, especially since I couldn’t sleep. Flashes of terror in the eyes of my people back home sent me spiralling once again, and I let my emotions get the better of me. I may have offended some, but I am also an Australian, and I feel the same fear and anger that others do about the events. These hostages have families who were watching the scenes with us, not knowing what would happen next, and once it was over, would have prayed that their loved ones were not injured or worse. We are all feeling this devastation. We stand with all the people affected by this tragedy. We stand with Australians. We stand with Australia. We are strong. We have a unique mateship that no other country has and we will pull through. Rest in peace to those who died.