Pictures: Sydney Siege

A gunman has taken numerous employees and customers hostage in a cafe in the heart of the financial district of Sydney.
Sydney Siege
Pictures: Sydney Siege David Gray/Reuters

At 9:44 am local time a gunman entered the Lindt Chocolate Cafe on Martin Place, at the heart of the business and financial district of Sydney. Cafe staff and customers were taken hostage by the reported lone gunman and have been held in the cafe for over 12 hours. Five hostages have managed to escape the cafe although it is still unclear whether they got away unaided, were released, or if the Australian police played a role in facilitating their escape. One hostage was taken to hospital but this was due to a prior medical condition rather than injuries sustained in the cafe. Police have evacuated the offices of neighbouring streets and several police cordons have been set up, blocking off access to the surrounding areas. The Sydney Opera House was also evacuated in reponse to the situation unfolding on Martin Place. Negotiators have reportedly opened a line of communication with the gunman. Local media who claimed to have spoken to hostages inside the cafe said that the guman was demanding an Islamic State flag and a phone call with prime minister Tony Abbott, although police said they could not confirm this. Police are supposedly aware of the identity of the hostage-taker, however, media outlets have been requested not to publish his name. In recent minutes an employee within the cafe turned off the lights, however, the NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione said earlier that he could not comment on this due to the ongoing police operation.

Words by Harry Spooner

Police push back a member of the public who tried to get into a building located near the Lindt cafe, where hostages are being held, at Martin Place in central Sydney December 15, 2014. David Gray/Reuters