Five people have come running out of the Sydney cafe where a siege has been underway for more than eight hours.
An armed man took control of the Lindt cafe at Martin Place this morning around 9.45am AEDT. A large part of the Sydney Central Business District was soon in lockdown. Police are now negotiating with the hostage-taker and are believed to have identified him.
The situation has now been running for more than 13 hours.
Tonight NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said authorities were doing everything they could to get the hostages out safely.
“Our only goal tonight, and for as long as it takes, is to get those people caught in that building out of there safely,” he said.
“We will continue this investigation, we will get to the bottom of it and at this stage, all I can assure you, we are doing absolutely all we can and we will do even more to guarantee the safe release of these people.
“There is much work to be done and much more in the coming hours.
“Rest assured we are doing all we can to set you free.”
Shortly before 4pm AEDT, three men managed to leave the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, one wearing a brown company apron.
Soon afterwards a further two women, also wearing Lindt uniforms, ran out of the cafe into the arms of heavily armed police. Here’s the first woman getting out, in footage captured by the Nine Network:
Police have been unable to confirm the number of hostages still inside, although they believe less than 30 people, including 10 staff, were inside when the gunman entered.
Seven Network reporter Chris Reason has returned to the TV newsroom which is located opposite the cafe on Martin Place where the siege is continuing. He tweeted that from their office they could see around 15 hostages still inside.
The three men who got out earlier are understood to have escaped, rather than being released by the hostage taker, who earlier today had a black shehadah flag – an expression of faith in Islam – hung in a window of the cafe.
Armed police have surrounded the building and cleared an area of several blocks in all directions around Martin Place, which includes the headquarters of the Commonwealth Bank and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
An exclusion zone remains in place and the state government has asked that people who work in the area do to attend work tomorrow.
Police negotiators have now had contact with the gunman and deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn said the motivations of the gunman are not known.
“It might take a bit of time and I can assure you we want to resolve this peacefully,” Burn said earlier this evening. “Our number one priority is the safety of everyone concerned.”
The federal government’s National Security Committee has met today to discuss the crisis, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
Earlier this year some 600 police were involved in raids on more than a dozen locations across Sydney in a counterterrorism operation. Police said that part of the operation involved disrupting a potential plot to abduct and execute a person in public in Sydney, possibly at Martin Place where the cafe in the current incident is located.
A police hotline has opened for general information about the incident, including information about other government services. Call 1800 227 228. Police said do not call 000 or the Police Assistance Line.
Here’s Scipione’s evening press conference:
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