Publication Date : Monday 15 December 2014 11:26
Gunman takes hostages in Sydney cafe, displays black ‘jihadist’ flag
A police operation is underway at a café in central Sydney, where up to 40 hostages are being held by an armed attacker and a black flag with Arabic inscriptions can be seen. Australia is contributing to the US-led operation against the Islamic State.
As the siege was about to enter its sixth hour, at least five people apparently escaped from the building. Live footage showed heavily-armed police regrouping near the cafe’s door, but not entering it.
A senior Lindt Australia official said that 10 staff and up to 30 customers could be held inside the Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place. There were “probably 30 customers” at the time of the attack, Sky Business quoted Lindt Chief Executive Steve Loane as saying. There was no immediate confirmation of the exact number of assailants.
The area surrounding the cafe has been sealed off by police, and Australian authorities have cleared the airspace over central Sydney to make way for police helicopters.
Media reports said that one of the hostages managed to post a tweet, in which he warned that police should be “cautious.”
“A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney’s CBD. People are advised to avoid the area,” New South Wales (NSW) Police tweeted.
Meanwhile, live TV footage showed people standing inside the café with their hands pressed against the windows. At least one attacker was caught on camera wearing a traditional Islamic cap.
The hostages were forced to hold a black flag with an Arabic inscription, prompting fears that ruthless Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants were behind the attack.
Reports on the ground suggest that young women being held hostage in the cafe are being used as a shield, while an attacker is seen pacing around the room.
Police said they have made contact with the "gunman", indicating that the assailant likely has no accomplices. The officials refrained from speculating about the motive for his actions.
Earlier, Australian 2GB radio host Ray Hadley said that the captor had demanded to speak with Prime Minister Tony Abbott live on the radio. Hadley added that hostages inside the cafe contacted him, but he declined to air their conversation due to safety concerns of those inside the building.
Another report claimed that gunmen have explosive suicide belts.
Meanwhile, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that no direct contact was made with the captor(s).
Dozens of police, including a SWAT team, were dispatched to the scene, and a couple hundred people were held back by cordons amid the evacuation of nearby buildings.
A cafe employee whose shift was about to start told RT that when he got to work, the doors were already locked and he saw a lot of hostages inside.
“I walked up to the door and then everyone was sitting down and the doors were locked. There was one guy walking around with a hat and a beard. I saw my manager there...There were a lot of people in there. Everyone inside put their arms against the windows.”
He added that before police arrived to the scene, people thought an armed robbery was taking place.
The flag – which appeared different from the one typically used by the IS – was identified as the shahada, or the statement of Islamic faith. The shahada itself only contains the religious inscription “There is no god but the God, Mohammed is the messenger of the God.” It is not directly connected to extremism, although it has been used by jihadist groups over the years.
Sydney gunman caught on camera, a middle-aged man wearing Islamic lettering bandana
The attack, which took place in Sydney’s central business district, forced nearby buildings in Martin Place – including the Reserve Bank of Australia – into lockdown.
The US has evacuated its Sydney consulate, which is close to the Lindt Cafe, Reuters quoted a spokeswoman as saying.
The consulate released an emergency statement to US citizens, warning them to "maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.”