Sydney: One armed offender is holding an unknown number of hostages inside a popular Sydney cafe, New South Wales Police commissioner told the media in the first briefing since the crisis broke early in the morning.
While the exact demands of the hostage taker remained unclear, reports said that the attacker has asked to speak to Australia PM Tony Abbott.
Early media reports put the number of hostages inside the Lindt cafe at 13. But, Sky News later reported that at least 30 customers and 10 staff members were held up inside. Neither number has been confirmed by the authorities.
The situation started early Monday morning. 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.
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 state-run ABC television reported.
Hundreds of armed police have sealed off Martin Place and urged people to avoid the area.
Major landmarks in the city such as the Sydney Opera House have been evacuated. Newsroom of Channel Seven, located opposite the cafe has also been cleared.
“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.
“It was then that gasps went through the newsroom as an ISIS flag was put up against one of the window panes,” he added.