Security officials in Australia have intercepted a heightened level of “terrorist chatter” in the aftermath of the Sydney cafe siege, prime minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.
As memorial services were held for the two victims of the 16-hour siege a week ago, Mr Abbott warned that the public needed to remain alert as the country headed into Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“The national security agencies today indicated that there has been a heightened level of terrorist chatter in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege,” Mr Abbott.
Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheikh, held hostages at gunpoint at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, a central Sydney shopping and office precinct, from mid-morning on Monday last week.
Two hostages, cafe manager Tori Johnson and lawyer Katrina Dawson, were killed along with Monis when police stormed the cafe. An official investigation into the final moments of the siege and the deaths of all three is under way.
Mr Abbott said: “I’m alerting people to the fact that the terror level remains high, and at this level an attack is likely.”
Police have said they would be boosting their presence at prominent locations such as Sydney Harbour, home to the Opera House, over the Christmas period.
Several of the 17 hostages taken by Monis attended the funeral service for 34-year-old Mr Johnson at a church just metres away from the cafe. New South Wales state premier Mike Baird and Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione also joined mourners.
A quote from philosopher Rumi under a photograph of Mr Johnson graced the cover of the funeral booklet. It read: “Outside the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Mr Johnson has since been lauded for his heroism after reports emerged that he tried to wrestle the shotgun away from Monis, sacrificing his life and allowing several of his fellow hostages to escape before police moved in.
His partner of 14 years, Thomas Zinn, and father, Ken Johnson, helped to carry the white coffin into St Stephen’s Uniting Church for the service.
More than 1,000 people attended a separate memorial service for 38-year-old Ms Dawson at her alma mater, Sydney University.
Her three children, aged four, six and eight, each chose a song for the service: Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Somewhere over the Rainbow, and The Gambler respectively.
Her friend and fellow hostage Julie Taylor, who is pregnant, said Ms Dawson made her want to be a mother.
“Katrina’s greatest love was the love for her family,” Ms Taylor said.
“If there is one thing above all that we can learn from Katrina’s example, it’s how to love, to show love, to use love and by loving to make other people and places better.”
A huge carpet of thousands of bouquets of flowers in Martin Place was removed early yesterday as thunderstorms threatened to drench the city. The flowers will be crushed into mulch and scattered at a site to be determined.
Meanwhile, NSW state opposition leader John Robertson resigned after coming under pressure when it was revealed he signed a letter to support Monis gaining access to his children in a dispute with his second wife.