Sydney, Dec 15: Three people were seen running out of a building where several hostages are held and waiting for release in Sydney. It is unclear whether they will be rescued from the chocolate cafe where around 40-50 hostages are counting the time since Monday morning.
Three people were seen on live video footage bolting out of the door past heavily armed police and then disappearing around a corner. However, it is not clear whether they were hostages or whether they were escaping from another area of the building where the hostage situation has been ongoing. Later, two women were seen running out of the cafe.
An armed assailant has been holding an unknown number of hostages inside the cafe, police said, with local television showing some being forced to hold up a black flag with white Arabic writing in the window.
Martin Place in the central business district was evacuated as scores of armed police surrounded the Lindt chocolate cafe, with TV pictures showing a flag -- black with white Arabic writing - held to a window by customers.
It appears to be the shahada, or profession of faith in Islam, and says: "There is no god but Allah; Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah".
"We are dealing with a hostage situation with an armed offender and dealing with it accordingly. We are ready to escalate should we need to," New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione said a short while earlier.
"We want the matter resolved peacefully and we will do all we need to do to ensure that," he added.
Adding to the unfolding drama, the nearby Sydney Opera House was also cleared by police, apparently over a suspicious package. It was not clear if the two incidents were related.
Scipione said the siege was contained to a single event in Sydney's central business district and that the city remained open for business.
Australia has been on high alert after the government raised concerns that citizens who have fought alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria could return home radicalised and capable of carrying out attacks.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott convened a national security meeting to deal with the "disturbing" developments, suggesting only one person was responsible for the Lindt cafe incident.
"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator, we don't know whether this is politically motivated although obviously there are some indications that it could be," he said.
"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 today to go about their business as usual," he added.
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