Much of central Sydney was on lockdown on Monday after at least one gunman took hostages in a cafe and draped an Islamic flag in the window.
Authorities sealed off streets, evacuated people from buildings and suspended many rail routes as many feared a terrorism attack was underway at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, according to ABC News.
About six hours after the siege started at 9:45 am, three people managed to flee the cafe. One person escaped from a fire exit as police had guns pointed into the doorway. Two more hostages ran from the front door, while two women wearing Lindt Cafe aprons ran from the side door.
The remaining hostages remained in the cafe as police attempted to make contact with the perpetrator. It is not clear if the attack was linked to a known Islamist militant group such as Islamic State, which has been the focus of a crackdown in the country in recent weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Tony Abbott” author_title=”Australian Prime Minister”]
We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator. We don’t know whether this was politically motivated, though obviously there are some indications that it could be.
It is unknown how many hostages remain in the cafe. Some media reports have said 13 people are still held, but there have been conflicting reports of larger numbers, with Lindt saying up to 40 people could have been in the cafe when the siege began.
The black flag hung in the cafe window was inscribed with the shahadah, a profession of Muslim faith. The flag has also been used by al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusra in Syria.
Martin Place is in the heart of the business district of Sydney with many restaurants, the central bank and company offices, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia office. The Sydney’s Opera House was among the buildings evacuated as police responded to the scene, according to USA Today.