Police in Australia say at least one armed man is holding several people hostage in a cafe in Sydney’s Central Business District, prompting a huge security response in an area home to many government offices. Police say contact has been made with the hostage-taker, who is reportedly armed, as hundreds of armed police swarm Martin Place, close to the New South Wales state parliament and the neighbourhood where the Reserve Bank of Australia is located.
So far five people – three patrons and two staff members – have emerged from the cafe building, hours after television footage began showing people inside the Lindt Cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows. The window was later cleared of people.
Tony Abbott, Australian prime minister, called a meeting of the country’s national security committee in response to Monday’s cafe siege and called the events “deeply concerning” in a statement. Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Sydney, said what appeared to be a black flag or sheet with Arabic writing was held up against the cafe’s window.
New South Wales Police confirmed they were responding to an incident, tweeting :
“A police operation is under way in Martin Place, Sydney’s CBD. People are advised to avoid the area.”
Footage from local broadcasters showed scores of people streaming out of the area. Australia is on high alert for attacks on its soil due to its support for the US-led campaign against ISIL, and police have recently launched a series of high-profile raids in major cities.
“One of the intercepts, heavily reported by Australian media leading to the raids, was an alleged plot to carry out a beheading in Martin Place,” Al Jazeera’s Thomas said.
More details as we get them …