What happened today: Sydney cafe under siege.

For further updates, please go here: Rolling coverage: A timeline of the Sydney siege.

This post contains rolling coverage of the situation in Martin Place. Please keep checking back for further updates.

Warning: This post contains distressing images.

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A Lindt employee emerges from the Martin Place cafe, visibly distressed. Image via Twitter.

UPDATE:8.30pm

The NSW Premier has asked those who work within the exclusion zone around Martin Pl, Sydney, to “work from home” tomorrow.

The Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has repeated the call for anyone who notices suspicious activities to call the National Security Hotline number on 1800 123 400.

In a press conference he has has confirmed that the lights have switched off inside the cafe but refused to answer questions as to why.

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                                                                         The exclusion zone

 

UPDATE: 5.33pm

NSW Police have issued another update, stating that “Police are continuing their efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation at Martin Place.”

There are reports of a growing police presence at the scene as the media is being moved back further than before. Another NSW Police press conference is due to be held at 6.30pm AEST.

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Recent coverage has shown the recent emergence of a fourth and fifth hostage from the cafe in Martin Place just after 5pm. Both appear to be unharmed, young women wearing Lindt cafe aprons.

These women follow three men who escaped, also unharmed, earlier.

A short time ago Nine News also reported that two hostages had made contact with them, the details of which have since been passed onto the police.

The station has confirmed that these calls were not put to air.

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In a press conference held a short time ago, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn has said that she cannot speculate as to how many people are inside the cafe in Martin Place, where the hostage situation continues to unfold.

“The most important thing is the safety of those hostages,” Ms Burn said. “I can confirm three people have now emerged…. Nobody has been harmed or injured at the moment.”

Deputy Commissioner Burn confirmed that the number of people being held inside the building “is not as high as 30”.

Ms Burn also stated the number one aim is to “resolve this incident peacefully” but that it is okay for people outside the exclusion zone to go about their business as normal. A police perimeter remains in place around Hunter, King and Elizabeth Streets.

Sydney-siders have been advised to go home as you would with most public transport operating as usual. Some buses are experiencing delays however Ms Burn confirmed most of the network is operating as usual.

Police are in contact with an armed person inside the cafe.

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A siege situation has been underway at a cafe on Sydney’s Martin Place since about 9:45am Monday morning.

At least 13 hostages held in Lindt Chocolat Cafe having been forced up against the cafe’s window, holding a black flag.

At around 3:35, it appeared that three of the hostages — who appeared to be men — were able to escape the cafe and hide behind police. One of the escapees appeared to be a cafe worker wearing a Lindt uniform, Seven News reports.

Two of the escapees reportedly came out front door of Lindt cafe, then another emerged from the fire door.

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The flag is not an Islamic State flag, but “the Shahadah flag or testimony of faith symbol”.

The flag, which is reportedly used by the group Jabhat al Nusra, reportedly says: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of God”.

Seven News reports that bomb squad police are present at the siege scene.

There is no confirmation yet from authorities on whether this is a terrorist attack.

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A bearded, middle-aged man wearing a black bandanna appears to be a perpetrator in the incident, and Seven News reports he appears to be directing others, although it is unclear whether he has accomplices.

Some reports suggest the man may be wearing a black backpack and vest.

Lindt Australia CEO Steve Loane told news.com.au he believes there are 40 to 50 people, including customers and staff, inside the cafe. Seven News also reports a perpetrator is using one of the hostages as a human shield.

Nine News reports that one of the people taken hostage inside a Sydney cafe this morning has been filmed making a chilling gesture to onlookers —  running her thumb across her throat.

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(Screenshot: 9 News.)

This afternoon, hostages made contact with media outlets from inside the cafe. Radio host Ray Hadley said on 2GB this afternoon that the hostage taker had been in contact with him, and that he understands the gunman is listening to multiple radio stations inside the cafe.

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A screenshot allegedly showing the gunman with a female hostage.

“There was one guy walking round with a hat and a beard, just walking round”

A nearby worker told Channel Nine : “I walked up to the door and everyone was sitting down and the door was locked, which was pretty weird cos it’s never locked.

“And there was one guy walking round with a hat and a beard, just walking round. And I think I saw my manager there.”

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The interior of the Martin Place Lindt store on a regular day.

The man — named as “Bruno” by Fairfax Media — told reporters he had been spared from being present at the siege by a matter of minutes.

“I was supposed to start at 10,” he said.

“I saw a guy who looked like he was overseeing everything,” he said. “He was standing up while everyone else was sitting down.

“That’s when the police came and everyone started putting their hands against the window,” he said. “There was a whole lot of people in there”.

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Building and road closures

The Sydney Harbour bridge has been closed and Sydney Opera House was also evacuated this morning, reportedly over the discovery of a “suspicious package” — although the details remain unclear.

Police have now left the Sydney Opera House, The Guardian reports.

Buildings near the Martin Palce cafe have been shut down, including the State Library, Westpac Bank, St Stephen’s Church and Art Gallery NSW. Surrounding buildings have been evacuated, including the 7 News newsroom, which is directly opposite the Lindt cafe and had cameras trained on the cafe’s windows earlier this morning.

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Police also evacuated those above the Lindt cafe – including a baby – by ladder, ABC News reports.

ABC 702 reports there is a childcare centre on Martin Place, and panicked parents have been rushing to pick up their kids.

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The Sydney Opera House has reportedly been evacuated. (Screenshot: Channel 9.)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s statement

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has met for briefings on the situation and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released the following statement:

New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation.

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.

We will provide regular updates as further information becomes available.

In a brief statement to reporters at about 12:50pm, Prime Minister Tony Abbott added: “We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, we don’t know whether this is politically motivated”.

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that’s why I would urge all Australians to day to go about their business as usual,” he said.

Mr Abbott also said his “thoughts and prayers” went out to those involved in the current siege.

“I can think of almost nothing more distressing, more terrifying, than to be caught up in such a situation,” he said.

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NSW Police have also released a statement saying: “Anyone else in the area encompassing Hunter, George, Elizabeth and Macquarie streets bordering Martin Place is directed to remain indoors and away from open windows. Anyone in the vicinity but outside that area is free to leave their buildings.”

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and NSW Premier Mike Baird have spoken to the media.

“We will get through this,” Mr Baird said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in the situation. We are with them.”

“We are being tested today... in Sydney,” he added. “The police are being tested, the public is being tested, but whatever the test we will face it head on and we will remain a strong democratic, civil society.

Commissioner Scipione confirmed the presence of “an armed offender” at the Martin Place site and said authorities are “doing what we can” to ensure the matter is “resolved peacefully”.

“The officers that are there are well-trained and professional. They know what they’re doing, they’ve trained for this,” he said.

He added that authorities were “not ruling out” the possibility of a terrorist incident, and clarified that police had not yet established direct contact with the offender.

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NSW Police Commissioner Scipione.

Lindt has also issued a statement about the inicdent.

“We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place,” it said.

“We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them.”

The Grand Mufti of Australia has issued a statement condemning the siege.

“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,” he said.

“His Eminence the Grand Mufti, the Australian National Imams Council and the Muslim community express their full support and solidarity with their victims and their families and aspire to a peaceful resolve to this calamity.”

Community leaders meet

The ABC reports Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan says Australian Muslim leaders are meeting online now, to see if the community can help.

Mr Dandan says it is not known who is behind the siege, “(b)ut regardless we have a hostage situation whether he is someone who belongs to the Australian Muslim community or not we are still waiting for information to be provided by police and based on that if there’s something the Muslim community can do or assist we are there.”

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An earlier arrest

Meanwhile, the ABC reports a 25-year-old Beecroft man has been arrested in the city’s north-west in relation to terrorism offences.

Australian Federal Police said the man was arrested by the joint counter-terrorism team as part of investigations into the planning of a terrorist attack on Australian soil and the facilitation of travel of Australian citizens to Syria, the ABC reports.

It is unclear whether the arrest was in any way linked to the Martin Place siege.

While there were some reports this morning that further raids may have been conducted in Lakemba, the AFP has confirmed those reports are incorrect.

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Armed authorities surround the Lindt cafe. (Screenshot: Channel 7.)

‘Martin Place plot’ revealed in September

Earlier this year, police raids in Sydney were reported to have foiled a horrifying terrorist plot to kill a random member of the Australian public after kidnapping them from Martin Place.

The plot was allegedly the plan of accused Sydney man, Omarjan Azari, who was arrested on terrorism charges in September.

In September, Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealing on Channel Nine’s Today show the act was planned to take place “within days”.

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Martin Place this morning. (Photo: Supplied.)

The Federal Government raised the nation’s terror alert level to “high” in September. It meant the risk of attack was “likely”, up from a medium level of alert which means an attack “could” happen.

Twitter coverage of the Martin Place incident:

More to come.

Read Mamamia’s wish for the frightened strangers trapped within the Lindt cafe.

The Prime Minister has urged anyone with information to call the national security hotline on 1800 123 400.

There is a police hotline with general information about the Martin Place incident. Call 1800 227 228

For further updates, please go here: Rolling coverage: A timeline of the Sydney siege.

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