Dozens of people are being held, with images showing a flag on the window resembling that of the Islamic State extremists.
The Australian police this Monday morning told a press conference it has not yet directly contacted the armed man that is holding an undetermined number of hostages inside a coffee shop in Sidney’s downtowon Commercial Business Disrict, which is in lockdown while officials attempt to negoatiate with the gunman.
The unidentified armed man storned into the busiy Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place early Monday taking customers and staff hostage. Some of the hostages have been seen up against the coffee shop’s window with their hands up high. In one instance, a jihadi flag could be seen flown inside the shop.
“We have been deployed in a position that is consistent with a terrorist act,” said police commissioner of South New Wales, Andrew Scipione.
Thousands of workers across the city have been sent home as a precautionary measure and some of the city’s major buildings evacuated, including the Opera House, the State Library, Channel Seven, the NSW parliamentary executive offices, the NSW Supreme Court’s criminal courts, the Downing Centre, and several city legal chambers.
Local media have been showing images of the cafe’s patrons against the windows of the shop, as well as a black flag with white Arabic writing used by some Islamic extremist groups.
Australia, which is backing the United States in its military operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and was also part of the military occupation of Iraq during the so-called “war on terror,” is on high alert for possible attacks by extremists or nationals who have joined extremist groups in the Middle East, especially those fighting against the Syrian government.
The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a statement saying that federal authorities and the country’s intelligence service are already working to solve this situation. Abbott also called on people to stay calm and confide in the authorities.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s statement on the #SydneySiege.
“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.
1/2 The incident in Martin Place is obviously deeply concerning but all Australians should be reassured…
2/2 …that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough & professional manner.
According to local press, some 40 people may be inside the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place. Meanwhile dozens of police including a SWAT team were deployed to the scene, with trains and buses stopped and roads in the area blocked off.
Earlier, the emblematic Sydney Opera House was evacuated over the discovery of a “suspicious package,” officials said. No further details about this situation or a possible link with the hostages have been released as of yet.
Last month the counter-terrorism chief of the Australian Federal Police revealed that more Australians have managed to slip out of the country to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East.
According to official reports since mid-October, there have been three unconfirmed reports of Australian Islamic State fighters being killed in Syria, including the actor Mohammad Ali Baryalei, who is suspected of having facilitated the recruitment of at least half of the 60 Australians currently fighting in the Middle East.
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