Sydney Hostage Taker Demands ISIS Flag
Hostages appear 'pained, strained' as siege goes on
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2014 2:00 AM CST
Updated Dec 15, 2014 7:59 AM CST
An armed tactical-response police officer grabs a hostage as she flees from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, today.   (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – Ominous developments in Sydney, where an unknown number of people are being held hostage in a chocolate shop and cafe: A gunman has contacted multiple media outlets and demanded both an ISIS flag and a phone call to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, according to Sky News Australia, and the lights in the cafe have now been switched off. Five hostages have escaped, but authorities, who have been in contact with what is now believed to be a lone gunman, aren't sure how many people remain in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, CNN reports. Witnesses say there are around 15 hostages and the gunman is forcing them to stand pressed to the cafe glass for two-hour stints, reports 9News, which has been contacted by two hostages to relay the gunman's demands. According to Ten Eyewitness News, which has also spoken to hostages, the gunman says he has planted four bombs—two in the cafe and two elsewhere in downtown Sydney. In other developments:

  • More than 11 hours after the siege began, police say that the gunman is continuing to negotiate with them and have warned against reprisal attacks on Muslims, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "Our plan, our only goal tonight is to get those people who are currently caught in that building out of there," New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters. "Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free."

  • Staff at 7News were able to observe the gunman from their offices. They say the gunman has what appears to be a pump-action shotgun, became "extremely agitated" when he realized five hostages had escaped, and the faces of remaining hostages appear "pained, strained, eyes red and raw."
  • A coalition of 40 Australian Islamic groups has issued a statement expressing "utter shock and horror at the unprecedented scenes."
  • An exclusion zone has been set up around the cafe in the heart of Sydney's central business district, and the premier of New South Wales says people who normally work there should prepare to work from home tomorrow.