Five hostages have emerged this afternoon from the Martin Place siege that has paralysed Sydney’s CBD.
An armed offender continues to hold several people hostage in the Lindt chocolate cafe, with NSW Police in anti-terrorism mode.
Several news outlets have reportedly been contacted by two hostages, who are revealing the gunman’s demands.
The man is allegedly referring to himself as “the brother” and claims to have four devices planted around Sydney, including two inside the Lindt cafe.
One male hostage dressed in what appeared to be a Lindt uniform was seen running out of a fire door to waiting police around 3.40pm on Monday. Another two people also exited the building shortly after.
About an hour later, two more hostages escaped – both women. The women also appeared to be wearing Lindt uniforms.
One of the women appeared visibly distressed and ran into the arms of a waiting police officer.
A spokesperson for St Vincent’s Hospital confirmed one hostage was being treated in emergency and is in a stable condition.
It was previously understood that there were 12 or 13 people being held however the CEO of Lindt earlier said there could have been up to 50 people inside the building.
Deputy Commissioner Burn told reporters there were “no more than 30” people involved.
Channel Seven reporter Chris Reason told ABC Sydney he had counted 15 people in cafe throughout the day.
Mr Reason, who was reporting from the nearby Channel Seven newsroom, also said he had witnessed the gunman rotating the hostages standing near the window, sometimes forcing them to stand there for up to two hours. He said hostages were being fed by staff in the cafe.
New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said police would work to reach a “peaceful resolution”.
“Those people are now being assessed to ensure their health is ok and police will speak to them,” Deputy Commissioner Burn said.
She also confirmed police negotiators had made contact with the gunman and believed the hostages remained unharmed.
“The information that I’ve had is that nobody has been harmed or injured at the moment. We have been working to ensure the people inside are cared for,” Commissioner Burn said.
Deputy Commissioner Burn said police were aware that some of the hostages were posting the gunman’s demands on social media.
This evening, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the police focus was on getting the hostages out safely.
“Our plan, our only goal tonight and for as long as this takes, is to get those people that are currently caught in that building, out of there safely,” he said.
“That remains our number one priority and nothing will change.”
A black and white flag
Around 11am on Monday, hostages were seen holding up a black and white flag in the window of the busy Martin Place café, some of them wearing Lindt Cafe aprons.
The flag on display is understood to say in Arabic: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Early video footage from the scene showed a man wearing a black bandanna holding a woman by the shoulders, appearing to use her as a shield.
Shortly before 2pm – about four hours after the siege began – Commissionerb Scipione said he was unable to confirm the motivation behind the attack, but could not rule out terrorism.
“We have certainly moved to a footing that would be consistent with terrorism,” he said.
He also confirmed that the earlier arrest of a Beecroft man on terrorism charges was unrelated to the Martin Place incident.
Sydney open for business
NSW Premier Mike Baird reminded residents that Sydney was open for business, with the exception of the area surrounding the incident.
“Can I ask everyone to go about everything in a usual manner? Obviously avoid Martin Place,” he said. “There will be transport updates but go about your usual exit from city.
“Can I also just ask as you’re moving around CBD to be aware, to be vigilant and ensure at all times that you’re also patient
“We will get through this. Importantly now our thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in the situation and we say to them ‘we are with you’.”
Martin Place is a main thoroughfare in Sydney’s central business district, and is home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, Macquarie Bank, as well as Channel Seven studios.
Prime Minister’s statement
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the siege as a “deeply concerning incident”.
“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.”
Mr Abbott also offered federal support to NSW authorities dealing with the siege.
Transport disruptions and building evacuations
The nearby Channel Seven newsroom was evacuated and trains in the area were stopped soon after the siege began.
“There’s no trains operating on the T4 eastern suburbs and Illawarra line. No trains on that line between central and Bondi junction,” a NSW transport spokesperson told The New Daily.
Earlier, there were unconfirmed reports the Civil Aviation Safety Authority had shut down the air space above central Sydney, however Minister for Infrastructure Warren Truss denied the reports.
A Qantas spokesperson told The New Daily: “There’s a no fly zone just over the CBD to make room for police helicopters. Commercial flights are being diverted”.
Terror expert Dr Clarke Jones told The New Daily he holds “grave fears for those inside”.
A witness in a nearby building, approximately 200 metres from the cafe, told The New Daily that the building was “locked down” shortly before 10:30am, whereas all other businesses were evacuated.
“We are the only people nearby that are actually in the building,” said the witness, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Everything is completely shut down around us.”
“We’ve got direct line of sight, so we’re not allowed near the windows,” said the witness, who from their position could see police helicopters hovering in the sky above.
“Everyone’s very scared,” they said.
A Lindt cafe employee, who was due to start her shift just an hour after the Sydney hostage drama unfolded, said she’s “shaking with fear”.
Kathryn Chee, a chocolatier at Lindt’s Martin Place cafe says she meant to turn up early for her 11am shift because the business had been so busy in the lead up to Christmas.
“It shakes me to the bone,” Ms Chee told ABC TV.
Ms Chee says the young woman seen in footage holding an Islamic flag pressed against the window had “a look of sheer horror on her face”.
“She’d be beside herself,” she said.
She said the woman is a thoughtful colleague who bakes treats for people’s birthdays.
Ms Chee said the male hostage seen in the TV footage is a funny guy who jokes with the customers.
“He’s always very active … I’ve never seen him stay that still for that amount of time.”
Condemnation from the Muslim community
Muslim community leader and Grand Mufti Professor Ibrahim Abu Mohamed condemned the attack on behalf of the Islamic community.
“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.”
The UN Alliance of Civilisations’ Aftab Malik said he was shocked by what has taken place.
“My reaction is one of shock, horror, aversion and of deep concern,” Mr Malik said.
“I feel the Muslim community has been facing a series of unfortunate events.
“Like anyone else they are deeply concerned how it’s a possibility that yet again their faith has been dragged through the mud by a group of young individuals who represent no one but themselves.”
— with AAP, Ebony Bowden and Jackson Stiles
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