SYDNEY. Dec 15 – Three hostages were seen fleeing after being taken hostage in a cafe in downtown Sydney today, with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down as police tried to make contact with the perpetrators. The hostages were being held in the Lindt Chocolat Café, a chocolate shop and cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place, the city’s financial district where the Reserve Bank of Australia and several commercial banks have their main offices. The area is also close to the New South Wales state parliament. Some of those being held could be seen through the shop’s windows with their hands held in the air. Two women were also seen inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding an undisclosed number of hostages in the cafe. Police have not yet had contact with the hostage taker, he said, adding that the situation began Monday at 9:45 a.m. local time. Video showed three of the hostages running out of the cafe hours into the hostage situation. In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, “We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them.”
They are looking at the flag that the hostages have been pictured holding, but he said police are not prepared to say what that flag may mean. Scipione also said police have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism event, but they are acting in a manner consistent with a terrorist attack. “We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day. “We don’t know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm.”
New South Wales Police said there was also an operation at the Sydney Opera House, but offered no other details. Some nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said. People in buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows. “There’s a real sense of alertness, awareness, and a bit of shock to be honest,” said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. “To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering.”