A dramatic siege is underway at a cafe, as armed police surround the building.
Several hostages made a dramatic escape, but as the five people sprinted to safety, police remain unsure how many other people are being held at gunpoint.
The incident began this morning, as people were arriving for work. Witnesses report seeing an man with a gun and a bag walk into the Lindt cafe and shop in the city-centre of Sydney.
Lindt have said they think approximately 10 employees and 30 customers were inside the premises at the time. Police evacuated nearby buildings and have requested that people remain indoors and stay away from their windows.
It is not known what the gunman’s demands, if any, are, or whether the escaped hostages were released or just managed to get out. Witnesses have reported a black Islamic flag being displayed at the window; the flag bears the declaration of Islamic faith, which reads: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott chaired a meeting of the national security committee in Canberra and said the siege was was “profoundly shocking:”
“Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society – nothing should ever change that and that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”
One witness, Siouxsie Ford, is in her office near Martin Place; her office has been locked down by the police and she said:
“There’s a large media presence around the security perimeter, an ambulance, a fire truck and police cars. We are very concerned about what’s going on inside the cafe. People in my office are watching out of the windows, or watching what’s happening on TV.
“The building management has been broadcasting alerts. We were told the lifts and doors were locked. We haven’t been told when exactly we can leave, but if there is a window of opportunity we can leave immediately and so we are on standby.”