Rob Griffith/AP
Hostages run to safety during a cafe siege in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. A swarm of heavily armed police stormed a cafe in the heart of downtown Sydney early Tuesday, ending a siege where a gunman had been holding an unknown number of people hostage for more than 16 hours. A police spokesman confirmed "the operation is over," but would not release any further details about the fate of the gunman or his remaining captives. After a flurry of loud bangs, police swooped into the Lindt Chocolat Cafe shortly after five or six hostages were seen running from the building.

Sydney hostage crisis spawns solidarity hashtag #IllRideWithYou

The alleged gunman, an Iranian, had seized a crowded cafe in Sydney before police stormed it early Tuesday morning. Australians have offered to travel in public with Muslims so as to defuse any anti-Islamic tensions.  

Australians have used social media to show their support for Muslims after an Iranian gunman seized a Sydney café, fanning fears of an potential anti-Islam backlash. 

The hashtag #IllRideWithYou took off Monday local time in Australia and quickly trended worldwide, generating 40,000 tweets in just two hours and more than 170,000 overall. 

It started with a Facebook post by Rachel Jacobs, who said a Muslim woman sitting next to her on a train in Sydney had quietly taken off her headscarf. 

"I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u',” Ms. Jacobs wrote on Facebook. “She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.”

Jacobs post was followed by a tweet from Sydney TV content editor Tessa Kum: "If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule.” Moments later she added, "Maybe start a hashtag? What's in #illridewithyou?”

The hashtag soon took off, spawning a flood of offers from Australians to ride with any Muslims who worried about being targeted for their faith as a result of the hostage crisis. Adopted by non-Australians, the hashtag has now become a general plea for tolerance and solidarity.

Muslims in Australia and across the world expressed their appreciation for the outpouring of support on social media:

Police stormed the café in Sydney early Tuesday morning local time, ending the siege by a gunman identified as an Iranian refuge. There were no immediate reports of injuries, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

While Australia is on high alert for terrorist attacks, the gunman’s actual motive remains unknown. As the Christian Science Monitor’s John Kubrycki reports:

The media have published images showing some hostages holding against the window a black and white flag with a general expression of Islamic faith, the Shahada, printed on it: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.” Although the Shahada is a general tenet of the faith, it has been co-opted by various jihadist groups.

Social media users in Australia also took to Twitter on Monday to express outrage over the alternative taxi service Uber, which raised its rates in Sydney during the siege. Many condemned the company for allegedly taking advantage of an emergency. Uber, which links drivers to riders via a phone app, quickly responded to the outrage in a press statement, according to The New York Times.

“Surge pricing is algorithmic and responded automatically to the large increase in demand for Uber rides out of the C.B.D.,” it said, referring to the central business district. “As soon as we became aware of the situation, we capped it and made all rides free to people leaving Sydney’s C.B.D. Uber is paying for these rides. If riders got charged surge pricing earlier, we will refund it.”

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