Sydney live: Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops, says PM Abbott

At least 15 people are currently being held hostage at Lindt cafe in Sydney's central business district. We track developments as they happen.

Aaron Pereira December 16, 2014 12:30:46 IST

12.25 pm: Police knew of 'Lone Wolf' gunman, says PM Tony Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed on Tuesday that the gunman at the centre of the Sydney siege, in which two hostages were shot dead, was known to the federal police and had an "infatuation with extremism".

Abbott described the hostage drama, which brought central Sydney to a standstill, as a "brush with terrorism".

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

Australian PM Tony Abbott. AFP

While there remains confusion regarding the motivations behind the attack, Abbott suggested the perpetrator, named as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, sought to "cloak his actions" with certain Islamic State terror groups.

Addressing the media in his first press conference since the conclusion of the dramatic 16-hour siege, Abbott confirmed that Monis took 17 hostages, with two of them, and the gunman, dying at the scene.

"Early this morning the Martin Place siege ended with the death of the lone gunman and, tragically, the loss of two hostages, innocent Australians caught up in the horror of yesterday (Monday)," Xinhua quoted Abbott as saying Tuesday.

"Five other people, four hostages and a NSW police officer, were injured. State and Commonwealth agencies are investigating. "Understandably, there is lot of speculation, but it will take time to clarify exactly what happened in Martin Place and why".

Police stormed the cafe in Sydney's Martin Place just after 2am.

Although it is not yet known to state authorities what the motivations behind the attack were, Abbott revealed links to Islamic State groups and that the gunman had a long history with violent crime.

Monis, an Iranian cleric, was on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as facing more than 40 charges of sexual assault. He had previously been convicted for sending offensive letters to families of deceased Australian soldiers.

"What we do know is that the perpetrator was well known to state and Commonwealth authorities," Abbott added.

"He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability. We know that he sent offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and was found guilty of offences related to this. We also know that he posted graphic extremist material online.

"As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the IS death cult. Tragically, there are people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence," the Australian prime minister said.

Abbott thanked authorities for their tireless work throughout the day and night. "I want to thank the New South Wales (NSW) Police and all the other agencies involved for their professionalism and courage," Abbott said.

Abbott also praised the resilience of Australians, saying the response to the tragedy proves their readiness to react to such incidents.

"These events do demonstrate that even a country as free, as open, as generous and as safe as ours is vulnerable to acts of politically motivated violence but they also remind us that Australia and Australians are resilient and we are ready to respond."

"Now, I do intend to go to Sydney early in the afternoon to be further briefed by NSW police and other security agencies. I also intend to say thank you as best I can in person to NSW Police officers and others involved in this appalling incident," Prime Minister Abbott said. - IANS

07.30 am: Lawyer, Lindt cafe manager killed in Sydney siege 

Two hostages who have been killed in the 17-hour-long hostage drama at a cafeteria in Sydney were identified as the manager of the Lindt Chocolate cafe and a lawyer, PTI report said.

The 38-year-old lawyer, Katrina Dawson, was a mother of three young children who became the victim of the siege.

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

Tori and Katrina.

She was a barrister at Selbourne Chambers and was married to Paul Smith, a partner at Mallesons.

Dawson studied law at Sydney University, where she lived at the women's college as a student. She did her clerkship at Mallesons where she met her husband.

Lindt Chocolate cafe's 34-year-old manager, Tori Johnson, was also killed in the siege operations on Monday.

It has not been confirmed whether they were killed in the crossfire after the police stormed the building or by the gunman, according to a report in the ABC News.

01.15 am: Three, including gunman, dead

New South Wales police have confirmed that three people, including gunman Man Haron Monis have died in the siege.

A loud bang rang out, several hostages ran from the building and police swooped in amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes. A police bomb disposal robot also was sent into the building, but no explosives were found.

"They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn't enter, there would have been many more lives lost," Scipione said.

The gunman was identified as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan. - Associated Press

10.06 pm: Another Indian hostage Pushpendu Ghosh safe, says Sushma Swaraj

Apart from the Infosys techie, there was also another Indian hostage, Pushpendu Ghosh, who is now said to be safe.

9.54 pm: Two including gunman Man Monis dead

Reports suggest that one of the two people who died in the Sydney siege was gunman Sheik Man Haron Monis.

9.47 pm: Indian Infosys techie safe, says Sushma Swaraj

As reports came in that two hostages were dead, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj tweeted that Infosys techie Vishwakant Ankit Reddy was safe.

Meanwhile PTI quoted Reddy's father Ishwar Reddy saying that he was ok.

9.36 pm: Siege over, confirm police; Two hostages may be dead

The hostage situation has come to an end, CNN reports that two hostages may be dead and three others are very seriously injured.

This news comes in even as the bomb squad is sweeping the Lindt cafe.

9.26 pm: Bomb squad inside Lindt cafe, whereabouts of gunman not known

After the police confirmed that he siege was over, sniffer dogs were sent inside the cafe. However the whereabouts of the hostage taker Sheik Man Haron Monis is still unknown.

Meanwhile Nine News Sydney reports that a number of the hostages who were inside the Lindt cafe are being treated for their injuries.

9.12 pm: Siege at Lindt cafe over, confirm police

After the flurry of activity around the Lindt cafe, the police have confirmed that the siege in the Lindt cafe is, in fact, over.

It is still not clear how many people have been injured and if it includes the hostage taker.

9.09 pm: Two people were given CPR, siege may be over

News reports suggest that two people were given CPR by the medicos. However it is not clear whether they were hostages or not.

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

Hostages run towards armed tactical responce police as they run to freedom from a cafe under siege at Martin Place. PTI

Times Now reports that the Indian who was one of the hostages is safe.

8.55 pm: Several injured hostages brought out on stretchers

Right after the second round of loud gunfire, visuals showed many hostages being carried out by the paramedic teams on stretchers.

However, is is still not known how many have been injured and also the extent of injuries.

Reports suggest the loud noises were not just gun shots, may have been low intensity grenades that were used by the police.

8.47 pm: Police storm into Lindt cafe amid loud gunfire

Right after the second lot of hostages emerged, the police closed in on inside the Lindt cafe which was followed by a huge round of gunfire.

The paramedics followed the police even as visuals showed people being carried out by the police. Some may have been injured.

Visuals show paramedics performing CPR on one of the hostages.

8.39 pm: Another six hostages escape from Lindt cafe

Another six hostages have been released from the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. Visuals showed them running out frantically from the same doorway from where the earlier hostages had escaped.

Dramatic visuals showed the hostages running out on the streets with their hand above there heads. Reporters of Nine News suggest that there was a loud bang as the people ran out. Right after that another bang was heard.

8.29 pm: Australia was aware threat from such 'lone wolf' attacks

Australia's dramatic siege in which a gunman displayed an Islamic flag follows months of warnings about "lone wolf" attacks, and experts said authorities must think harder about how to tackle the problem.

Heavily-armed police surrounded the Lindt chocolate cafe in Sydney's financial heart on Monday as an unknown number of people remained inside hours after being taken hostage.

The incident comes against a backdrop of warnings from the government about radicalised Muslims, potentially attracted to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and sympathising with the Islamic State group.

Australia upgraded its security alert in September in the face of extremist threats, ramping up an anti-terror crackdown after foiling a plot by Islamic State jihadists to carry out "demonstration executions" in the country.

"I am deeply concerned about the threat that lone wolf terrorism poses to people," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in September.

7.40 pm: Gunman behind siege is radical Muslim cleric, wants an ISIS flag

According to Autralia's Nine News Sydney, the gunman behind the Sydney siege is Sheik Man Haron Monis.

According to Nine News " Monis was born Manteghi Bourjerdi and fled from Iran to Australia in 1996 where he changed his name to Man Haron Monis and assuming the title of Sheik Haron."

Meanwhile Zee News says, "The armed gunman reportedly wants the hostages to refer to him as a "Brother" and says that he would release a hostage if an ISIS flag is delivered to him, a hostage who managed to escape told channel 10 TV"

7.10 pm: Two of the five hostages who escaped identified

Two of the hostages who managed to escaped from the clutches of the lone armed gunman have been identified as a lawyer and a woman cafe employee.

They have been identified as Stefan Balafoutis who is a lawyer and Elly Chen, an employee of Lindt Chocolate Cafe.

Chen was one of two female cafe workers to run from the cafe after an hour after two customers and another staff member fled the building. Chen is a Sydney University student and sportswoman.

6.53 pm: Families of hostages wait patiently as standoff continues at Lindt cafe

Families of those who have been taken hostage inside Lindt cafe are still waiting near the cafe in hope for a break through.

There are reportedly videos from hostages that Nine News Sydney has received but they won't be broadcasting it because of security reasons.

6.33 pm: Amid darkness, hostages being moved around inside Lindt cafe

The hostage crisis in Sydney continues journalist at 7news Sydney reports that the man suspected to be the gunman was seen walking to the back office of Lidnt cafe.

5.30 pm: Police ask those working in 'exclusion zone' to stay home

The siege in Sydney has entered its eleventh hour. According to television reports negotiators are in touch with the hostage takers inside the Lidnt cafe in Sydney, but police have not given out too many details because of security reasons.

Meanwhile, a visit New South Wales Government website shows a message outlining security measure taken by the authorities.

The statement says:

The NSW Government wants to send a clear message to the people of Sydney – when you wake up tomorrow morning, go about your normal business.

There will be some necessary changes.

An exclusion zone will continue to operate around Martin Place bordered by Elizabeth St, St James Road, Macquarie St and Hunter St.

If you work in this exclusion zone, please work from home unless otherwise advised. A map of the zone is available here.

The transport network will operate as usual, except for the closure of Martin Place station.

Some buses will be diverted around the exclusion zone but will continue to run through the CBD.

For more information about transport arrangements you can visit www.transportnsw.info (link is external)

There will be no school excursions into the Sydney CBD tomorrow.

Cultural institutions will be open as usual except for the State Library that will be closed until further notice.

4.13 pm: Lights go off in Lindt Cafe as hostage crisis continues

Even as the siege situation continues in Sydney, reports suggest that lights inside the Lindt cafe have gone off. However the police refused to comment on it.

3.50 pm: Twitter trends #illridewithyou to help Muslims in Sydney
With the hostage situation still continuing, Australians have started trending #Illridewithyou to help Muslims in the city travel back home as well as back to work the next morning, given that there is a sense of fear among the community following the hostage situation.

Here are some of the tweets:

3.05 pm: Highlights from the NSW police press conference

Our only goal is to get those people currently caught in that building to safety. That is our priority and nothing will change. We are working to resolve this just as quickly as we possibly can.

There is much work to be done but for those who have loved ones that are caught up in this, rest assured we are doing all we can to set you free. Your safety is our No 1 priority.

On the lights being switched off, the police commissioner said he was not in a position to talk about the tactics. We have the best negotiators in the world. They are doing their job. No one is injured and if that is true we are grateful. The means by which we are contacting is to be kept close to our chest. We would not want to share that right now. There's no place on earth that has no contact to social media. Our plans are built around that.

On the five hostages that were released: They will be working with us to assist and ensure we get a peaceful outcome. If people are being contacted by media, put them in touch with us. The negotiators can help them in these situations. The person who went to hospital was for a pre-condition and not something because of this incident.

On the motive behind the attack: There are many out there that are guessing the motive. We are not in the business of speculating but in investigating. We will do our best.

On securing the city: We are looking to increase the numbers in coming days if this drags on. We will put as many people we need to because this is important.

There is no need for people to be in and around the area for there is nothing to be seen. We would love to have the same support we had today, tomorrow.

We want people to remain calm. There are police to ensure that there is safety in any part of NSW.

 

2.38 pm: Infosys confirms employee held hostage in Sydney

Infosys has issued a statement saying one of their employees is currently being held hostage inside Sydney's Lindt cafe. They have added that they are in constant touch with authorities and are currently locating all their employees in the city.

"We can confirm that one Infosys employee is among the hostages at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. We are also in the process of confirming the whereabouts of all our other employees in the city. We are in constant touch with the local authorities and Indian Consulate in Sydney for updates on the situation on ground," the company said in the statement said.

2.18 pm: Watch - Footage of five hostages running to safety

Five people have managed to exit the Lindt cafe in Sydney's central business district and are currently being counselled as well as being provided medical help.

Here is footage by The Associated Press of the five hostages running out of the cafe.

1.50 pm: Details emerge from what's happening inside Lindt cafe

7 News journalist Chris has been able to return to the newsroom located opposite the cafe. These are the details he has tweeted out about what could possibly be happening inside the cafe where a gunman is holding over a dozen people hostage.

 

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

A Lindt employee runs towards police officials after exiting from the cafe where over 15 people are being held hostage. AFP/Saeed Khan

 

1.20 pm: One Indian among hostages inside Sydney cafe, says Naidu

There is information that one Indian is being held (as hostage) in Australia. EAM is keeping in touch with Indian Embassy there, whatever steps were to be taken have been taken: Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu told reporters outside Parliament today.

The Indian Consulate in Sydney was also evacuated in view of the hostage situation and all the staff members are safe, the External Affairs Ministry said.

"As a preventive measure in accordance with the local requirements, we have evacuated the staff from the Sydney Consulate building because it is located about 300-400 metres away from where this incident took place," Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said here.

The Indian Consulate is in touch with local authorities and all the staffers in the consulate are safe, the spokesperson said.

"Our Consulate is in touch with local authorities. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has spoken to the High Commissioner who is in touch with local organisations," Akbaruddin said.

"Such incidents are always difficult to handle but we have standard procedures which are in place in such matters. We have also set up a helpline and the Deputy Counsel General is available on +61481453550.

"In case anybody would like to know any information we will be providing that information. At this stage, all we can do is to keep in touch with local authorities and provide information as and when that is provided to us," the spokesperson said. - PTI

1.10 pm: Highlights from the police press conference by Dy commissioner NSW Catherine Burns

Five people have emerged from the location. Three earlier and two after. They are being assisted to ensure their health is okay. We have set up a police operation centre and a state operation centre.

Approach is to resolve peacefully, priority is the safety of the people inside and the safety of the people of NSW.

System has worked well apart from a few minor delays.

Message is to continue your business as usual. If you had plans to come into the city, go by your business. If there is a change we will communicate it to you.

We have the public information inquiry centre set up anyone can ring it and it's opearting 24 hours.

The National Security Hotline can also be contacted if anyone has any information.

I thank the community of NSW. We are dealing with sensitive information. Please be assured all police resources are in place. We have the best negotiators in the world.

Won't clarify any operational techniques at the moment. As soon as we are able to, we certainly will.

We have been in contact (with gunman) through the day in various forms. We cannot talk about the techniques. This is a very well tested system of negotiation we use.

There is speculation about what he might want but we have to deal with him on the level of police negotiation. We are monitoring all forms of communication. If anyone has any information, please let us know.

12.42 pm: Shocking that innocent should be held hostage by armed man, says Abbott

PM Tony Abbott has issued another statement assuring citizens that the police force are doing all they can to secure the release of those held hostage.

"It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation. Nevertheless I can say that New South Wales police and other agencies have responded to this incident with great professionalism," he said, in his second statement.

— Kerrie Yaxley (@KerrieYaxley) December 15, 2014

11.25 am: Sydney Opera House cancels performances

In a statement released today, the Sydney Opera House has confirmed that performances scheduled for the night stand cancelled.

"In light of the situation in the CBD today, we have decided to cancel tonight's performances at the Opera House. This is to minimise pressure on transport networks and to provide as much notice as possible to staff and patrons.

The cancelled performances are:

- The Australian Ballet's The Nutcracker in the Joan Sutherland Theatre;

- The Sydney Theatre Company's Switzerland in the Drama Theatre

- Damon Albarn's performance in the Concert Hall.

 

11.15 am: India releases helpline number for Indian nationals

With the embassy office barely 400 metres away from the hostage site, the Indian government has set up a helpline where Indian nationals can get in touch with consular officials to know details about the crisis.

11.15 am: Sydney radio host speaks to hostage

A Sydney-based radio presenter Monday said he spoke to one of the hostages being held inside a cafe here and he could hear the gunman talking in the background.

"The male hostage was remarkably calm when relaying information over the phone from the gunman," said Ray Hadley, a radio presenter of 2GB, a commercial radio station here.

Hadley said he could hear the gunman talking in the background during the phone conversation, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The gunman wanted the hostage to speak live on radio, a demand Hadley claimed to have refused.

"I told the hostage it would not be in his best interest or my best interest to allow that to happen because I'm not a trained negotiator, I don't have any expertise in this, there are people who will talk to both the hostages and the person holding the hostages and they will be knowing what to do," said Hadley.

Hadley said he has spoken to New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione about the phone call and Scipione asked him not to allow the hostage to speak on air.

Hadley claimed the gunman was talking about "other operatives being involved", and said he was instructed to call back.

"They talked about a password they would give me...I have no idea what that means, what it's about," Hadley said. "I could hear the person in the background giving instructions to the young man I was talking to." - IANS

11.01 am: BCCI confirms security for Indian cricketers in Brisbane increased following hostage crisis

"We are constantly in touch with Cricket Australia top bosses. We are monitoring the situation closely and security of our players is paramount. The players are in Brisbane and everything is normal there," BCCI Secretary Sanjay Patel told PTI.

"However, the security of the Indian team has been beefed up considerably. We have been informed by Cricket Australia that additional police forces have been deployed with the Indian team. We are happy with what CA has arranged," he added.

10.57 am: Indian Consul General confirms they are in touch with security agencies in Sydney, reports NDTV

Indian consulate in Sydney is 400 metres from site of the siege and had evacuated all its personnel when news of the siege broke out.  The office has staff of about 40 people.

10. 35 am: Police confirm they are in touch with gunman

The New South Wales police have confirmed that they are in touch with the gunmen and that three people, including on Lindt staff, have emerged from the area. While they have refused to say how many hostages are present inside, they have confirmed that it is less than 30.

 

10.25 am: 3 hostages escape from Lindt cafe, say reports

Several Australian media outlets are reporting on Twitter that three people have left the Lindt cafe via a side fire door. This has not been confirmed by police. Australian TV networks as well as The Associated Press have reportedly said that three, including one with a Lindt apron were seen running out of the door.

It is not clear whether they were hostages or whether they were escaping from another area of the building where the hostage situation has been ongoing since Monday morning.

The two people were seen on live video footage bolting out of the door past heavily armed police and then disappearing around a corner.

The potential development came six hours after a gunman took an unknown number of people hostage inside a downtown Sydney chocolate shop and cafe at the height of Monday morning rush hour.

A police official speaking to the media said negotiations are on to ensure that nobody is hurt. The police say they are trying to establish the identity of the hostage taker and his motive.

10. 18 am: Sushma Swaraj speaks to Indian consulate in Australia

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is seeking details of the incident and has spoken to her ambassador in Canberra, Australia on the serious incident.

The Indian consulate office in Sydney and the staff of about 40 people have been safely evacuated.

It is not yet known if there are any Indians inside the cafe where gunmen have held dozens of people hostage.

10.15 am: Flag being used not that of Islamic State, says expert

The flag being used appears to be a Shahada flag, which represents a general expression of faith in Islam, but has been co-opted by various jihadist groups, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The translation of the flag is: "There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."

However, the news daily reports, quoting Greg Barton, a terrorism expert from Melbourne's Monash University, that "getting hold of an [Islamic State] flag would be quite difficult, and people will make do with what they have got".

10. 05 am: Assure our full support, says Opposition leader Bill Shorten

Australia's leader of Opposition Bill Shorten spoke to Prime Minister Tony Abbott before he addressed the media and offered the Labor Party's 'complete support for the government' at this 'most difficult time," The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"Australians are shocked but we won't be shaken," Mr Shorten said.

"At times like this it is more critical than ever that the Australian community be solid, stick together and be united," he said.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also tweeted out his concern.

9.55 am: Indian consulate shuts office in Sydney

The Indian Consulate General's office in Sydney has shut down as a security precaution, news channels have reported. There was, however, no official confirmation as of now. The office has staff of about 40 people and all of them have been evacuated from the building.

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

Members of the media outside the cafe in Sydney's central business district. AFP

9. 50 am: Grand Mufti of Australia condemns hostage situation

The Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed has issued a statement in which he condemns the siege in Martin Place.

"The Grand Mufti and the Australian National Imams Council condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam.

"His Eminence the Grand Mufti, the Australian National Imams Council and the Muslim community express their full support and solidarity with their victims and their families and aspire to a peaceful resolve to this calamity."  - BBC

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

9.45 am: Hostage forced to contact radio channel, say reports

While the police have not yet been able to establish contact with the armed gunman and also known what the motive of the attack is, BBC News reports that one of the hostages was forced to get in touch with a commercial radio channel under instructions by the gunman and allow them to make a public address.

He was, however, denied permission, the BBC reported,

09.40 am: Airplanes restricted from flying over CBD

Authorities have restricted airplanes from flying above the central business district of Sydney to allow helicopters to fly into the area and assist rescue operations.

Several buildings are still in lockdown (3.10 pm local time) and the area has further been cordoned.

09.25 am: Thank you for your support, says Lindt cafe

Lindt Chocolate Cafe Australia released a statement on their Facebook page:

"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."

Meanwhile, the UK foreign office in London has published a statement, saying: "We are aware of the hostage situation in Martin Place in Sydney and are in touch with the authorities".

Here is the location of the cafe in Sydney's central business district.

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

The location of the cafe in Sydney's central business district.

09.10 am: Prime Minister Modi, Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa express concern

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern at the hostage situation in Sydney this morning. He was in the country last month, a visit by an Indian PM after 28 years.

 

 

 

8.30 am: We will get you through, says Premier Mike Baird

"Whatever the test, we will face it head on and we will remain a strong, democratic, civil society," NSW Premier Mike Baird said, addressing the media ahead of a press conference by NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione.

"We will get through this, our thoughts are with those people, we will get you through".

Speaking at the press conference, a senior police official refused to tag the situation as one of terrorism saying for now it was an armed offender.

The hostage situation is with an armed offender. Not a terror activity as yet. We are looking to resolve the issue as early as possible."

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

The flag held up against a window at Sydney's Lindt cafe bears the Islamic testament of faith in Arabic.

These are some of the highlights of the press conference by the NSW police commissioner:

There is one gunman involved an an undisclosed number of hostages. The situation has been contained. We have not been able yet to get in touch with the attacker. New South Wales Police have been in attendance and have controlled the situation. We are continuing to secure and do all we can to bring this to a peaceful outcome. We will do all we can to ensure that.

We have a lot of people concerned when they see police vehicles driving down the street. That's not the case. We will work as long as we have to, to bring this to a good outcome.

We also are aware that there are many people who have been displaced. We will ensure people do not get harmed. Transport arrangments are in place to make sure people can get around.

We are doing everything we can to resolve it. Our police officers are well trained.

We will try and bring this to an end as early as possible.

08.20 am: It's literally worrying, says eye witness

Bruno, speaking to ABC, said he works at the Lindt cafe and that the doors were locked when he arrived.

"I walked up to the door and it was locked ... I've called people and they haven't answered phone ... it's pretty bad," he said.

Another witness, Rosemary, said she worked in the same building as the cafe and often bought coffee in the Lindt cafe.

"I just walked up from Martin Place station, up the stairs to get my coffee at the Lindt cafe, and for some reason this morning I decided to get it at the station underneath," she said.

"It's very worrying. You just don't think these sorts of things are going to happen in your own backyard. It's literally frightening.

 

 

08.14 am: Will help in any possible way, says Lebanese Muslim Association

Meanwhile, the head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Samier Dandan, says Australian Muslim leaders are discussing how their community can help the situation.

"If there's something that the Australian Muslim community can do to assist, we are there," he told ABC. - BBC reports.

08.10 am: US evacuates embassy, issues advisory to citizens

United States has evacuated its Sydney Consulate, which is located near a cafe in the city where hostages are being held, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The consulate has also issued an emergency warning to US citizens in Sydney, urging them to "maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security".

The spokeswoman said a couple of essential personnel remained at the consulate but all others had been sent home. - Reuters

08.00 am: Flag not believed to be linked to Islamic State

Dozens of hostages were trapped inside a central Sydney cafe on Monday, with local television showing some being forced to hold up a black flag with white Arabic writing in the window, raising fears of an attack linked to Islamic militants, Reuters reports.

The flag, however, is reportedly not linked to the Islamic State group.

7.41 am: Don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, says Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott today responded to the situation saying it was still not known who were behind the attack and what the motive of the gunmen was.

"This is a very disturbing incident and I can understand the concern and anxiety of the Australian people at a time like this. Our thoughts and prayers must above all go out to the individuals that are caught up in this," Abbott said, addressing the media.

7.30 am: Police responding to incident at Sydney's Opera House

Australian authorities are dealing with an "incident" at Sydney's Opera House, police said Monday, without elaborating on whether it was related to an ongoing siege at a nearby cafe.

"The police are responding to an incident at the Opera House," a New South Wales police spokeswoman told AFP.

Sydney live Gunman in Lindt cafe seige was known to cops says PM Abbott

Police officials secure the area around Lindt cafe. AP

Reports said the Opera House had been evacuated. - AFP

An apparent hostage situation was unfolding inside a chocolate shop and cafe in Australia's largest city on Monday, where several people could be seen through a window with their hands held in the air.

New South Wales state police said they were dealing with "an armed incident," though they would not confirm hostages were being held inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney. But television footage shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass.

"Specialist officers are attempting to make contact (with) those inside a cafe," police said in a statement.

TV footage showed two people inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.

Zain Ali, the head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland, said it was difficult to read the message because media images showed only the lower part of the flag. But he believed it was the Shahada, or declaration of faith, largely because a black flag with white writing in a contemporary context often contains that message. He said he could make out the word "Muhammad."

Ali said the Shahada translates as "There is no deity of worship except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God." It is considered the first pillar of Islam's five pillars of faith, and has been used by groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State but wasn't invented by them, Ali said.

A police spokeswoman said no injuries had been reported from the incident. Heavily armed officers were lined up outside the cafe, and a man with a backpack inside the cafe could be seen walking back and forth in front of the glass doors.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the National Security Committee of Cabinet met to be briefed on the situation.

"This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," Abbott said in a statement.

The cafe is located in Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of the city's financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year. It is home to the state premier's office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation's largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away.

Streets in the area were closed, offices evacuated and the public told to stay away.

Associated Press

Updated Date:

also read

Sonu Sood flags off Sanjeevani Ki Gaadi to raise awareness on Covid vaccine in 4,831 villages
India

Sonu Sood flags off Sanjeevani Ki Gaadi to raise awareness on Covid vaccine in 4,831 villages

The actor took the Covid jab but also appealed to the people to take the vaccine against Covid at the earliest

More than 8.3 cr people vaccinated against COVID-19: Harsh Vardhan at Sanjeevani's launch
India

More than 8.3 cr people vaccinated against COVID-19: Harsh Vardhan at Sanjeevani's launch

The Union health minister compared the Covid vaccine with Sanjeevani and added that one doesn’t have to go anywhere far to get the vaccine, drawing the mythology of Sanjeevani from Ramayana

'Don't postpone, get vaccinated today': Sonu Sood takes Covid jab at Sanjeevani's launch
India

'Don't postpone, get vaccinated today': Sonu Sood takes Covid jab at Sanjeevani's launch

The actor visited the Apollo hospital and got hassle-free vaccination against COVID-19 within few minutes on the occasion of World Health Day