The Australian Jewish community is under lockdown after a gunman who calls himself "the Brother" took dozens of people hostage inside a café in Sydney on Monday. The man has demanded a flag of the Islamic State group and to speak with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He reportedly told police that two bombs are inside the café and another two are inside undisclosed locations in Sydney, Newsweek reported.
While there are no reports that the Jewish community is being targeted, leaders have taken precautionary measures. Security at Jewish day schools throughout the country will be heightened; all field trips will be canceled. The measures will remain in effect on Tuesday, according to the Community Security Group, which handles security for the Jewish communities of Australia.
“The fact that someone has perpetrated an event like this, it has caused a heightened level of vigilance for our community,” Steve Lieblich, director of public affairs at the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia told the Jewish News. “We are on level 5 of 6 alert levels.”
One Jewish institution reportedly issued a “code red” during which the building was locked down for several hours. That order has since been lifted, Haaretz reports.
Anti-Semitism in Australia is relatively low. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent of Australians have anti-Semitic attitudes. Since the Israel-Gaza conflict this summer, however, the country has seen a “disturbing rise of anti-Semitic incidents.” One of the most high-profile cases took place in August when six drunken teenagers hurled slurs at Jewish kids on a school bus in Sydney and threatened to slit their throats.
Another took place in October. Four men and one woman were on their way home from a Sabbath meal in the eastern suburbs of Sydney when they were attacked by a group of eight men. The men yelled anti-Semitic slurs at the group before assaulting them. Police said the victims suffered injuries, including a fractured cheekbone, broken nose, concussion, lacerations and bruising.
“People feel as though they are living inside the experience of ISIS beheadings, anti-Israel demonstrations and the Gaza-Israel war,” Mark Baker, director of the Jewish center at Melbourne’s Monash University, told Haaretz in August.
Ahead of the siege at the Lindt café in Sydney, Israeli singer Gad Elbaz had just left the restaurant when the gunman entered. He played a concert in Sydney on Sunday.
“We had been in the café for around 45 minutes, and by a stroke of luck, we rushed to leave to catch a flight,” Elbaz said. “I didn’t see anything strange in the café apart from the fact it was jam-packed with people who were meeting friends or having a morning coffee before work.”
In a message sent to congregants on Monday afternoon, Rabbi Levi Wolff of Sydney’s Central Synagogue wrote, "Australians are a people of peace, and this wonderful country is not accustomed to terror such as this on its own soil. We will not allow these sorts of people to intimidate and overwhelm us.”