A man is holding several people hostage at Martin Place cafe
- From: news.com.au
- 11 minutes ago December 15, 2014
ARMED men are holding up to 50 people hostage at a cafe in Martin Place in Sydney.There are reports that two gunmen have taken hostages at the popular Lindt chocolate shop, which has several entrances. The situation has been ongoing since 10am.
Some members of staff could be seen wearing their shop aprons and standing with their hands up at the windows. There is also a black and white flag being held up in a window. It is believed to be the Black Standard, a jihadist flag.
Lindt Australia CEO Steve Loane told news.com.au he believes there are 40 to 50 people inside the cafe, including customers and staff.
Other reports are suggesting there may only be 13 hostages.
Police handcuffed a man 200m from the cafe siege but a police statement has since clarified the arrest was unrelated to the siege.
RELATED: Lindt workers wait for news as hostage situation continues
The National Security Committee of Cabinet has met for briefings on the situation this morning.
At a press conference this morning Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government did not know whether the hostage situation was politically motivated.
“We don’t yet know the motivation of perpetrator, we don’t know whether it’s politically motivated although there are indications it could be,” he said.
“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people... Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society and nothing should ever change that and that’s why I urge all Australians to today to go about their business as usual.”
Mr Abbott urged all Australians to go about their business as usual but if anyone noticed anything unusual they should call the National Security Hotline 1800 123 400.
He said that the ordinary business of government would go on and the Budget update would be released as planned.
In a statement earlier, Mr Abbott said he had also spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and “offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance”.
“This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner,” he said.
Mr Baird said his thoughts and prayers were with those affected.
“I’ve spoken to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione & have full confidence NSW Police are working effectively to resolve the situation,” Mr Baird said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he had spoken with Mr Abbott this morning and offered him the Opposition’s full support.
“Our thoughts and prayers today are with the innocent people involved ... (and) also with their families who are seeing this incredibly distressing situation unfold, along with the rest of Australia.
“Australians can be assured that we are one when it comes to keeping Australians safe.”
A Lindt cafe worker who managed to get out of the building told Nine News: “Everyone was sitting down, the door was locked. There was one guy walking around with a hat and a beard.”
Channel 7 reported that a woman told police that she saw a man near the cafe at 9.44am carrying a blue sports bag with what she thought was a gun inside.
The chocolate shop is 30 or 40 metres from the Channel 7 offices so they have cameras trained on the building. Channel 7 has been evacuated.
Martin Place is home to several prominent buildings, including NSW Premier Mike Baird’s office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, Westpac Bank and the Commonwealth Bank headquarters as well as the US embassy and the Seven Network. The Supreme Court, Sydney Hospital, State Library of NSW, and NSW parliament were also in lock-down.
The Sydney Opera House was also in lock-down for a short time as authorities enacted a cluster of security measures across the city.
Seven reporter Chris Reason is currently on the corner of Philip and Hunter St where all five floors of Channel 7 staff were evacuated. He told news.com.au that he is with several hundred people from Seven and surrounding buildings. He confirmed that police entered Channel 7 at 10am to use their building as a viewing point after the incident first happened at 9.44am.
At 10.20am the entire building was evacuated and the central hosting duties was transferred to Melbourne to broadcast out of there.
Police have erected a large black shield to cover the corner of the Lindt Store from view.
“It’s tense, people are obviously concerned for the people inside. During the initial minutes when the evacuation happened there was, of course, a lot of concern, a lot of anguish from some staff. But nobody resisted, we all followed police orders. Right now, outside the building there is a mix of curiosity and concern and hope that the people inside get out OK.”
Currently there are at least 100 police and tactical units stationed in Martin Place
“I was at a cafe right next to the Lindt Store when I noticed people suddenly running towards the building and looking in. At 9.45 I sort of approached and realised what was happening. At first we thought it was an armed holdup because the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) is next door and there were armoured vehicles outside. When we saw the hostages against the windows holding up the flags it was quickly apparent that this was severely urgent.”
When asked whether he thought why the men may have chosen Martin Place, he said: “It’s hard to tell, as we saw in the terror raids in September, Martin Place would be a target. It might not be iconic Sydney location but it is deeply symbolic, on top of our building (Seven) is the State Government, the treasurer the minister, beside it is the financial heart of Sydney with the reserve bank and right in the centre is the cenotaph and ANZAC memorial so it ticks so many boxes when trying to make a political statement.”
There are State Government agencies in the same building and police have shut down traffic in a wide perimeter surrounding the incident. Surrounding buildings are also in lockdown.