Several people were on Monday taken hostage at a popular cafe in Sydney apparently by at least one Islamic State (IS) gunman, media reports said.
At least three people could be seen with their arms in air and hands pressed against the window glass of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place, a busy tourist and shopping district in central Sydney, state-run ABC television reported.
An Islamic flag was also reportedly seen hanging in the window of the cafe. Witnesses claimed hearing loud bangs that sounded like gun shots, the TV channel reported.
Hundreds of armed police have sealed off Martin Place and urged people to avoid the area. Dozens of police cars are at the scene and one police officer has drawn his gun.
“We raced to the window and saw the shocking and chilling sight of people putting their hands up against the panes of glass at the cafe,” the channel’s producer, Patrick Byrne, was quoted as saying.
“This was just extraordinary. Then, as we were looking wondering what was going on, it seemed to be like an armed hold-up, more police arrived at Martin Place… The area was cleared. People were kept back,” he said.
Authorities sealed off surrounding streets, evacuated people from buildings, and suspended rail services following the incident at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, in the heart of the city’s business district. Martin Place is a public pedestrian thoroughfare through the heart of Sydney, joining its parliamentary, legal and retail districts.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott convened a meeting of his security inner circle in his cabinet to discuss the response to the hostage-taking.
“This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner,” Abbott said. “Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society and nothing should ever change that and that is why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”
Abbott said security agencies had not detected any particular plots but the raised alert level meant there were people in Australia with the “intent and capability” to carry out a terror attack.
Hundreds of police had been mobilised, including those specially trained for terrorist threats, tactical officers and negotiators to general duties officers and traffic police handling road closures.
Three hostages run out of Sydney siege cafe: Police
Three people ran out of a Sydney cafe where a gunman has taken hostages and displayed an Islamic flag against the window, police said today, adding that no one has yet been harmed.
According to New South Wales Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn, three people who came out of Lindt Cafe at Martin Place were with police. Three people – one staff member and two others have been seen on footage shown on Channel 7 running from the cafe.
“The information that I have is that nobody has been harmed or injured at the moment,” she said.
“We clearly are dealing with a situation that is unfolding and it’s happening as we speak and the most important thing is the safety of those hostages and I wouldn’t want to do anything that may impact on the safety of those hostages.”