Five hostages escape Sydney cafe siege, jihadist continues to hold others

Published December 15th, 2014 - 08:35 GMT

Three men and two women have escaped a cafe in Sydney where an undisclosed number of people were being held hostage by an armed man on Monday morning.

Armed officers have surrounded the Lindt Chocolat Café in Martin Place in Sydney's Central Business District, where staff and customers have been forced to hold what appeared to be a black Islamic flag against the window.

Footage broadcast on Sky News showed two men running towards a group of police around what appeared to be a fire escape door. In a separate shot another man, wearing a brown apron, was seen running out through the door.

Catherine Burn, deputy commissioner at New South Wales Police, said: "We are with those people now. The first thing that we are doing is making sure that they are okay. We will then establish who they are, and then we will continue to work with them."

She said police negotiators were in contact and nobody had been harmed, adding: "We have been working through our negotiations to try to make sure that the people inside are cared for, that they have what they need, so that they don't become ill or injured, so we will continue to do that."

Later footage showed two women wearing aprons with the Lindy chocolate logo fleeing the building.

It was not known exactly how many people are inside the cafe, although it was reported that a Lindt executive had said there were 10 staff members in the venue.

New South Wales's Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione confirmed that the incident involved "an armed offender" and "an undisclosed number of hostages", and that they had not as yet had any communication or contact with the hostage-taker. On being questioned, Mr Scipione said there was "at least one armed offender", and the police were operating "on a terrorism footing".

The flag seen in the window is believed to be the Shahada, which carries a message that translates as: "There is no deity of worship except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God." 

Armed police officers were seen outside the café with their guns drawn, and a man with a backpack inside the cafe could be seen walking back and forth in front of the glass doors. The building it is in contains a number of state government bodies.

Police closed roads in the area and also stopped some trains from running after the alert was raised at about 9.45am on Monday local time. The newsroom at broadcaster Channel7, which is about 30 metres away, was evacuated.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was unclear if the siege was politically motivated.

"We don't yet know if this is politically motivated, although there are some indications that it might be," Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

"This is a very disturbing incident. I can understand the concerns and anxieties of the Australia people," Abbott said, without providing any information on the unfolding siege.

Mr Abbott's office earlier released a statement: "New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

"I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.

"The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation."

“This is chilling,” said Kylie Gillies, host of Channel7’s The Morning Show as she watched events from the studio.

Talk radio presenter Ray Hadley claimed on Twitter that he was rung by a hostage while on air. He took the call off air and the station, 2GB, then said that the NSW police commissioner has confirmed this.

Earlier on Monday, police arrested a 25-year-old man in the city as part of operations to disrupt the flow of money and fighters to conflict zones such as those in Iraq and Syria.

The police commissioner confirmed that the two incidents were not in any way linked.

 


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