Amid hostage crisis, hashtag #IllRideWithYou goes viral

Twitter users are offering solidarity with Australian Muslims facing potential backlash after a suspected Islamist held hostages in a Sydney café. The standoff eventually ended around 2 a.m. Sydney time after police stormed the store. 

The hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used approximately 170,000 times around the world on Monday morning following unconfirmed reports suggesting women riding on public transportation wearing traditional Muslim clothes in Sydney were being intimidated.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the use of the hashtag was catalyzed by a woman in Sydney named Rachel Jacobs after she posted a Facebook status describing an encounter with a Muslim woman on a train who began to remove her hijab. “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.”

A Sydney TV editor then reportedly saw the post and tweeted, “If you [regularly] take the #373 bus b/wCoogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you,” she wrote, following up with the #IllRideWithYou hashtag, which then went viral.

A coalition of Muslim groups  have since condemned the attack at the Lindt café in Martin Place in the largest city in Australia, calling it “despicable” and reminding “everyone that the Arabic inscription of the black flag is not representative of a political statement, but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves.”

After more than 15 hours, police stormed the cafe where the gunman –identified as Man Haron Monis—was holding an undisclosed number of hostages. New South Wales officials said some of the hostages were treated for injuries on scene while others were taken to local hospitals. Earlier in the day,  five people have since managed to escape from the chocolate shop, where a black flag used by Islamist groups in the Middle East was draped in the window.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had said earlier that the gunman was “claiming political motivation."