Latest Development: The gunman said he wanted to talk to the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. He also demanded the delivery of an Islamic State flag. The gunman made his demands through hostages who spoke to news channel Network 10.
New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione said late Monday (local time) that they have managed to establish contact with a gunman holding hostages inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney. The cafe is located in the district that includes the U.S. consulate, Reserve Bank of Australia, courts and the Parliament of New South Wales state. Australian government has mobilized its terrorism task force to tackle the hostage issue that has paralyzed the central business district of Sydney.
Sydney Siege: five hostages manage to escape
Scipione told reporters that his negotiators were working to diffuse the crisis at the earliest. However, he didn’t specify whether they contacted the gunman directly or through intermediaries. Addressing the hostages, Scipione said, “Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free.” It was still unclear how many captives were held. But a local news channel said there were as many as 15 hostages inside the cafe.
So far, five hostages have managed to escape (one-by-one). No one has been injured. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said that the gunman appeared to have a “political motivation.” According to the local media reports, the gunman was willing to obtain an ISIS flag in exchange of some of the hostages. Inside the cafe, two people were pressed up against the window holding a black flag with something written in Arabic. The Arabic text on the flag was translated to, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Sydney Opera House evacuated
The siege began around 9:45 a.m. local time. The gunman appeared to be in his 40s or 50s. He claimed to have planted two bombs inside the cafe and another two elsewhere in Sydney. Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said authorities don’t “speculate” about the reports of bombs. She said the police wanted to resolve the matter peacefully. Police have also evacuated the Sydney Opera House, which is just about a kilometer away.
Police officials said they have identified the gunman, but urged media not to publish his name until the rescue operations are completed. Separately, Indian IT firm Infosys Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:INFY) confirmed that one of its employees was among the hostages.