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Police storm Sydney cafe, free hostages, two dead

Several hostages including men and women ran out of Lindt Chocolate Cafe just after the police operation began around 2.30 a.m. with three bangs that were followed by dozens of gunfire shots.

Within minutes, several hostages were carried away on stretchers by police personnel and para-medics.

The New South Wales Police told the Sydney Morning Herald that the Sydney siege was over.

Xinhua news agency said two people had been killed in the cafe but it was not clear when -- and who they were.

The fate of hostage-taker -- Iran-born cleric Man Haron Monis, who was granted asylum in Australia in 1996 -- was not known.

The family of Infosys employee Ankireddy Vishwakant told the media in Andhra Pradesh that he had been rescued and was safe.

Vishwakant, who was recently granted Australian citizenship, stopped at the cafe on his way to work when the gunman took him and 29 others hostage, his family said.

The chilling incident, days ahead of Christmas, took place in Sydney's central business district and barely 400 meters from the Indian Consulate, which was promptly evacuated.

Also located in the vicinity are the offices of India Tourism, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and New India Insurance.

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