Canberra, Dec 15:
Five people fled to safety from a cafe where over 30 people are being held hostage at gunpoint in this Australian city.
Five hostages have made it out of the cafe at Martin Place, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn was quoted as saying by Sydney Morning Herald.
A gunman took over 30 people hostage at a busy cafe located not far from the Indian consulate in this Australian city.
The dramatic siege took place in Sydney’s bustling central business district, days ahead of Christmas.
The hostages were seen standing with their hands up at the windows of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place. There was also a black and white flag, believed to be a jihadi flag, being held up in a window, Xinhua reported.
Heavily armed police responded quickly and surrounded the building. There were conflicting reports about the number of hostages. While one account put the number of hostages at 20, another account said that there were over 30 hostages.
Following the incident, the Opera House in Sydney cancelled Monday night’s performances.
“In light of the situation, 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,” Sydney Morning Herald reported citing an Opera House statement.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called for calm as security personnel tried feverishly to tackle the siege.Abbott said police “are currently responding to a reported hostage taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney”.
Thousands of workers across the city have been sent home early and some of the city’s major buildings including the Opera House, the State Library, Channel Seven, the New South Wales parliamentary executive offices, the NSW Supreme Court’s criminal courts, the Downing Centre and several city legal chambers were evacuated.
The National Security Committee of the Cabinet has also been convened for briefings on the situation.
The prime minister described it as 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”.
In New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over the siege.
“The incident in Sydney is disturbing. Such acts are inhuman and deeply unfortunate. I pray for everyone’s safety,” the prime minister said in a statement.
The Indian consulate is located less than a kilometre away.
New South Wales (NSW) police commissioner Andrew Scipione said police were yet to make contact with the the one or more offenders who laid seige at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“We are still determining what it is that may well be the motivation. We are not in a position to determine where the individual is from,” the paper quoted Scipione as saying.