Gunman takes hostages in Sydney café

2014-12-15 06:41

A number of hostages were being held this morning inside a central Sydney café, after witnesses reported gunshots and footage showed an Islamist flag held up to the window.

“We don’t know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that it could be,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, urging people to carry on as normal.

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves,” he said.

“Australia is a peaceful, open, and generous society. Nothing should ever change that and that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”

Two apparent hostages earlier held a black flag up to the window of the Lindt Café in Sydney’s Martin Place, bearing the Islamic phrase in white Arabic script “there is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger”.

Footage on several news channels showed a middle-aged man with short silvery beard and a black bandanna on his head with Arabic writing on it, speaking and gesturing to people in the café.

He was wearing a black backpack, a white T-shirt and a black vest.

Dozens of police were at the scene. The area was cordoned off and the state Parliament at the end of Martin Place was in lockdown, with staff told to stay in their office and lock the doors.

The United States consulate, 50 metres from the café, was closed and evacuated. A park in the city was also evacuated after a suspicious package was reported.

Flights were diverted from over the central business district, with reports saying the move was to allow security forces to operate helicopters if needed.

Witnesses said around 13 people were held in the café.

Lindt Australia chief executive Steve Loane told news.com.au he believed there were 40 to 50 people inside the building including customers and staff.

Police earlier today arrested a 25-year-old man in western Sydney for allegedly plotting an attack in Australia and helping Australian citizens travel to Syria, ABC reported.

Meanwhile, United States President Barack Obama has been briefed about the situation.

Lisa Monaco, the president’s top counter-terrorism adviser, had spoken to Obama about events in the Australian city, the White House official said.

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