Lights out at siege cafe as stand-off enters 12th hour: Gunman was ‘extremely agitated’ when five hostages escaped as witnesses report seeing food being brought for those trapped inside
- Gunman stormed a cafe in central Sydney during morning rush hour and took at least 15 people hostage
- He forced hostages to hold up black flag with white writing in Arabic, an emblem linked to terror groups
- Two women and three men were able to flee the Lindt cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place
- The gunman became ‘extremely agitated’ after the five escaped, a witness said
- As night fell, food was seen being brought from the cafe kitchen for the hostages
- Lights went out in the cafe, though police declined to say if they cut power to the building
· Police commanders say they will be patient while no one has been injured and want to end the siege without violence
As many as 15 hostages seized by a gunman who stormed a Sydney Cafe at morning rush hour are facing a terrifying night as a siege in the center of the city continued after dark, hours after five captives made a courageous break for freedom.
Witnesses saw food prepared in the cafe’s kitchen brought out to the remaining hostages, thought to number between ten and 15, as the stand-off with heavily armed police entered its twelfth hour. The drama began unfolding around 9,30 am, when a gunman entered the cafe, located in one of busiest plazas in Sydney’s central business district, and pulled a shotgun from a blue carry bag and disabled the doors to the business. Soon afterwards, hostages were seen with their hands pressed against the windows holding up the Islamic Shahada flag. It is an emblem of extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting the Assad government in Syria. The man was described as wearing a headband with Arabic writing on it. Scores of police rushed to the scene, evacuating surrounding buildings and closing off part of the city. The scene sent shockwaves across Australia, where terror attacks have rarely touched home soil. Paramilitary police armed with automatic rifles spent all day Monday surrounding the cafe, but senior commanders said they would be taking a patient approach to the siege and hoped to end it through negotiation with the gunman. A total of five hostages, including barista Elly Chen, managed to escape the cafe by scrambling out a side door about seven hours into the drama. Fear etched on their faces, they ran into the arms of waiting police. It is understood the hostages escaped from the cafe, rather than being released by their captor. One former male hostage has been taken to nearby St Vincent’s Hospital, in Sydney’s inner suburbs, and is being treated for a pre-existing condition. The gunman flew into a rage when he realised some of his captives had escaped. ‘The gunman could be seen from here getting extremely agitated, shouting at remaining hostages,’ tweeted journalist Chris Reason, who has a direct line of sight into the cafe from the Seven Network newsroom directly opposite and inside the police cordon. The light inside the building has gone off tonight, Mr Reason said, but police would not reveal whether it was a law enforcement or hostage-taker tactic. Police negotiators have learned the name of the man and have made contact. This evening, Mr Reason said he could see the gunman rotating the hostages through positions in the store’s window. ‘From inside Martin Place we can see the faces of hostages – pained, strained, eyes red and raw,’ he recounted. Food and water was also being delivered to the prisoners from the cafe’s back kitchens. Seven Network staff have counted around 15 hostages in the cafe, he said, rather than the 50 reported by Lindt Australia CEO Steve Loane earlier on Monday.
Daily Mail Australia understands a 25-year-old female fashion industry worker and two female baristas aged in their 30s are among that number. As scores of heavily armed police, clad in black, remained on guard in Martin Place, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione tonight said police would do whatever it takes for the situation to be peacefully resolved. The hostage taker is believed to have demanded a flag of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria and to talk to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Sydney was eerily quiet on Monday night. Office buildings went into lockdown earlier this morning, Martin Place train station – a central thoroughfare for workers – was shuttered. Events at the Opera House, such as a performance of the Nutcracker, were cancelled as the city icon was evacuated. Hundreds of heavily armed police, operating under unprecedented Task Force Pioneer counter-terrorism protocols, were scouring the city, completely isolating the darkened cafe. In an evening press conference, state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione sent a message of support directly to those imprisoned in the chocolate cafe, at the whims of an unknown quantity. ‘Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free,’ he said, boasting that the state has the ‘best police negotiators in the country’ and that the safety of hostages was authorities’ ‘number one priority’. Police believe all hostages remain uninjured. ‘[And] if that’s true, for that we’re grateful,’ Commissioner Scipione said. Detectives have refused to confirm what weapons the militant is carrying, or even if the militant is accompanied by allies. Queensland’s police commissioner Ian Stewart said earlier on Monday that he had information an improvised explosive device may be involved, but state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has tonight refused to confirm that. NSW Premier Mike Baird warned workers in the Central Business District that Martin Place and surrounding areas would remain an exclusion zone into Tuesday. ‘If you work in this exclusion zone, I’d ask you to work from home tomorrow morning,’ a resolute Mr Baird told reporters. Monday’s crisis began just hours after a 25-year-old suspect was arrested in a terror raid in Beecroft, a leafy suburb in Sydney’s north-west, but police denied a link between the two events.