Amid a hostage situation in one of downtown Sydney’s busiest spots, a hashtag expressing solidarity with the city’s Muslim population has gone viral.
It comes as the drama in Martin Place, which has seen a gunman force hostages to unfurl a black flag with white Arabic writing in the window of the Lindt café, stirred some anti-Muslim sentiment.
The leader of the anti-Muslim Australian Defence League, Ralph Cerminara had earlier turned up at the scene to rant against Islam.
A freed hostage races to safety
He was moved on by police, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The #illridewithyou hashtag is believed to have been inspired by a young Sydney woman named Rachael Jacobs, who posted a moving Facebook status update about her encounter with a Muslim woman earlier in the day, The Age writes.
"...and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab," Jacobs wrote.
"I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u'. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute - then walked off alone."
The tale made it onto Twitter, with user @sirtessa reposting it with the message: “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."
The hashtag has since gone viral with hundreds of Sydney twitter users stepping forward and offering to escort their fellow citizens.
Many have praised the response as an ideal way to combat bigotry during a crisis. One woman whose Twitter profile shows her wearing a headscarf tweeted her thanks along with the hashtag.
Five people have escaped but many people are still held at the siege site.
"We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that it could be," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters earlier in the nation's capital, Canberra. "We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."