An apparent hostage situation is unfolding inside a chocolate shop and cafe in Australia's largest city, where several people could be seen through a window with their hands held in the air. New South Wales police said they were dealing with "an armed incident," though they would not confirm hostages were being held inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney. But television footage shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass. "Specialist officers are attempting to make contact (with) those inside a cafe," police said in a statement. TV footage showed two people inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.
Zain Ali, the head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland, says it was difficult to read the message because media images showed only the lower part of the flag. But he believes it was the Shahada, or declaration of faith, largely because a black flag with white writing in a contemporary context often contains that message. He says he could make out the word "Muhammad." Ali says the Shahada translates as "There is no deity of worship except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God." It is considered the first pillar of Islam's five pillars of faith and has been used by groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State but wasn't invented by them, Ali says. (Read more Sydney stories.)