Gunman holds several people hostage in cafe

The attacker has taken control of the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s central business district which at the time had at least 10 staff and "probably 30 customers" inside according to an executive.

An unidentified gunman is currently holding several people hostage in Sydney, Australia, police officers have said.

The attacker has taken control of the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s central business district which at the time had at least 10 staff and "probably 30 customers" inside according to an executive.

The incident occurred early on Monday, December 15, as people were arriving the building for work.

A black Islamic flag has been displayed at the window of the café and it is believed to be the “al-Raya”, a generic symbol of Islam that bears the "Shahada", a statement of the Islamic faith that says: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

Australian authorities are however hesitant to label the incident a terrorist attack with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying it might be politically motivated.

“I can think of almost nothing more distressing, more terrifying than to be caught up in such a situation, and our hearts go out to these people,” Abbott said.

“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.

New South Wales Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione at a news conference said:

“At this stage the operational advice that I've got is we're still determining what it is that may well be the motivation and at this stage we are still not yet in the position to determine where the individual is from.”

Meanwhile, five people have been seen running out of the building. It is not clear whether they escaped or were released.

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