UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: New South Wales police confirm gunman, two hostages killed in siege; four others injured.
One injury was to a police officer, who was shot in the face.
Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says a total of 17 hostages were involved.
UPDATE 1:05 P.M.: ABC and CBS News have each reported the gunman is dead.
There are unconfirmed reports about a possible third fatality.
UPDATE 11:48 a.m.: Australian media report gunman is one of two people dead after siege; no official word yet.
UPDATE 10:49 a.m.: CNN is reporting two people are dead, three in serious condition. Fate of gunman unknown.
UPDATE 10:32 a.m.: CNN reports CPR being performed on at least two people. Police confirm siege is over, no word yet on casualties.
CPR being performed on at least 2 after Sydney siege, which has now ended, Australia's ABC reports http://t.co/Y62bZ2YYa5— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) December 15, 2014
UPDATE 10:16 a.m.: Gunshots and explosions heard, police appear to have taken action to break siege.
Multiple hostages have emerged from the siege in Martin Place. Police have opened fire and thrown flash grenades. http://t.co/v6tqzAyfgH— smh.com.au (@smh) December 15, 2014
UPDATE 10:10 a.m.: Several more hostages, men and women, have fled the cafe.
UPDATE 9:12 a.m.: Australian news outlets have named the suspected gunman as Man Haron Monis, a self-styled cleric also known as Sheikh Haron.
Police say media can now name gunman. They say there is no operational reason why it should be suppressed. He is Haron Monis.— Cath Turner (@turnerscope) December 15, 2014
Gunman Haron Monis: Born in Iran About 50 years old Came to Australia in 1996 as a refugee— Cath Turner (@turnerscope) December 15, 2014
Monis is known to police. He sent hate mail to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.— Cath Turner (@turnerscope) December 15, 2014
Haron Monis was charged w/ accessory to murder of ex-wife last year. Charged w/ sexual assault of woman this year. Currently on bail.— Cath Turner (@turnerscope) December 15, 2014
UPDATE 7:29 a.m.: ABC news in Sydney published an in-depth story on the black flag seen in the window of the cafe, noting that it is not an Islamic State flag but rather a black flag with the Shahada on it. The Shahada is one of the five pillars of Islam, but has been used by extremists in the past:
The Black Standard flag dates back to the early days of Islam.
Since this time, black flags have been used by a number of Islamic organisations and governments.
The flag pressed against the glass in the Sydney siege consists of a black background with an Islamic declaration of faith printed on it in white text.
The creed printed on the flag is known as the Shahada and it translates as: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of God."
It is an extremely common statement of faith for Muslims.
Shahada is a central tenet of Islam; the text of the creed itself is not directly linked to extremism or jihad.
It is commonly found on numerous Islamic flags, including that of countries such as Saudi Arabia.
However, variations of the black flag with the Shahada printed on them in white text have in recent decades become commonly used by extremist Islamic groups.
Jabhat al-Nusra, commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, uses a flag with the Shahada written on it, followed by the group's name written on an additional line.
A black flag with the Shahada written on it is used by the organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which campaigns for a worldwide caliphate, ruled by Islamic law.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is not currently banned in Australia but has been accused of having links to terrorist organisations.
UPDATE 7:11 a.m.: The U.S. consulate in Sydney issued a statement saying their office will be closed on Tuesday do to the ongoing situation. The address for the consulate is listed on the same street as the cafe:
UPDATE 5:35 a.m.: Australian Muslim groups issue statement: Arabic inscription on flag “has been misappropriated by misguided individuals," referring to the hostage-taker or hostage-takers.
Australian Muslim groups issued a statement Monday expressing their "utter shock and horror" at the Lindt cafe developments and emphasized the black flag with Islamic writing raised inside the restaurant “is not representative of a political statement.”
"We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to instill fear and terror into their hearts," the statement which was signed by 44 groups said.
"Any such despicable act only serves to play into the agendas of those who seek to destroy the goodwill of the people of Australia and to further damage and ridicule the religion of Islam, and Australian Muslims throughout this country," the groups said.
They emphasized that the Arabic inscription on the flag being held up at the cafe “is not representative of a political statement, but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves.”
UPDATE 4:50 a.m.: Police prepare public for a potentially long ordeal.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione is preparing the public for the possibility that the siege may not end in the hours ahead. Briefing the media Monday evening Sydney time, Scipione said the number of police involved in the operation would increase if it “drags on” for days.
He did not answer reporter questions addressing how many hostages are inside, how many perpetrators are involved beyond the one reported gunman, what his motives are, if the five who got out of the building were released or escaped or why the lights were turned off at the cafe as the sun was setting in Sydney and by whom.
Asked about unconfirmed reports that bombs may have been placed elsewhere in the city, Scipione said that law enforcement was currently dealing with only with one location, that is the cafe.
He also said that one of the five hostages who got out of the cafe went to the hospital for a preexisting condition and was not injured during Monday’s hostage-taking.
At the same briefing, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said he had held a conference call with Islamic leaders, noting , “We are in this together.”
The police commissioner assured the hostages, “We are doing all we can to set you free.”
UPDATE 4:15 a.m.: Australian media say they won’t air hostage-taker’s demands.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that New South Wales police are asking Australian media to refrain from reporting any demands they receive from the hostages speaking on behalf of the gunman. This as one television station said it received a video showing hostages conveying the hostage-taker’s demands but has decided not to air the footage.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that police have identified the gunman but are asking media not to publish his name.
Australian reporter Chris Reason – whose newsroom has a direct view of the Lindt cafe - tweeted that the lights in the cafe were turned off as the sun was setting in Sydney.
UPDATE 3:58 a.m.: Reporter whose office overlooks scene describes hostages being used as human shields.
The Channel 7 newsroom in Sydney directly faces the Lindt café, providing reporters there a unique view of the ongoing siege. Reporter Chris Reason is tweeting his observations including descriptions of hostages being forced to block the window of the café, being used essentially as human shields against Australian security forces positioned outside.
He said he personally counted 15 hostages from his vantage point, not 50, a mix of young and old, women and children, with no children appearing to be among those inside.
From inside Martin Place newsroom we can see gunman is rotating hostages, forcing them to stand against windows, sometimes 2 hours at a time— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7) December 15, 2014
From inside Martin Place we can see the faces of hostages - pained, strained, eyes red and raw. One young am with head in hands— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7) December 15, 2014
From inside the Martin Place newsroom - we can see food is being delivered to the hostages. Staff bringing it out from kitchen at back— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7) December 15, 2014
All the hostages now huddled at one end of Lindt Cafe, one is covering the window at that end with an apron— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7) December 15, 2014
When the 5 hostages escaped, the gunman could be seen from here getting extremely agitated, shouting at remaining hostages— Chris Reason (@ChrisReason7) December 15, 2014
UPDATE 3:40 a.m.: Location of café is same area where a reported Islamic State beheading plot was planned.
While Australian police won’t reveal the motive and the demands of the gunman, media reports from September noted that the public beheading plot by Australian jihadists was planned for Martin Place, the same pedestrian mall in Sydney’s central business district (CBD) where the Lindt café is located.
The Australian news site the National reported in September that “the plot involved abducting a random Australian, execute them by beheading in a public place, possibly Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD, and film the act and post on social media.”
Britain’s Daily Mail reported Monday that Omarjan Azari, 22, who was charged in September in connection with the beheading plot, was expected to make his bail application this week in Central Local Court.
“The alleged terror plot, mentioned in a conversation between Australian terrorism recruiter in Syria, Mohammad Ali Baryalei and Azari, involved selecting a member of the public at random, beheading them and then covering their body in an Islamic flag,” the Daily Mail reported.
UPDATE 3:00 a.m.: Police confirm they are negotiating with the hostage-taker.
New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn says there is a “negotiation” underway with the gunman, though she did not specify what form those talks were taking and if they were directly with the perpetrator.
She told reporters that police have been in contact with him throughout the day “in various forms,” but she refused to answer a reporter who asked what the gunman is asking for.
She would not say how many hostages are still inside, nor did she confirm or deny when asked about an unconfirmed report that hostages had conveyed to an Australian media outlet that there were bombs planted in unspecified parts of Sydney.
Burn would not specify when asked if the five hostages who left the café had escaped or were released.
The “safety of those people inside is paramount,” she said.
“Our approach is to resolve” this peacefully, Burn said, and that “might take a bit of time.”
UPDATE 2:27 a.m.: Gunman conveying demands via hostages.
Various Australian news agencies are reporting that the unidentified gunman is making demands via the hostages. Sydney Morning Herald reporter Tim Elliott reported, “The Martin Place hostage taker has requested police locate an Islamic State flag for him, according to a senior figure in the Sydney Muslim community." According to the unnamed official, the gunman said that in exchange for the flag he would release an unspecified number of hostages. According to this report, officials were having trouble locating the black Islamic State flag as it is illegal to possess one in Australia.
The Australian radio stations 2UE and 2GB and Nine and Ten television networks all reported that they have been called by hostages at the demand of the gunman.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Fairfax Media – a major Australian media outlet - and Channel 10 have both reported that the man wanted a Islamic State flag delivered.
UPDATE 1:05 a.m.: Two more hostages run out of cafe.
UPDATE 12:29 a.m.: Here's video of the three hostages running from the cafe:
UPDATE 11:59 p.m.: Police confirm three people were released from cafe.
UPDATE 11:50 p.m.: 7 News Sydney reported that three people were seen running out of the cafe, protected by heavily armed police.
UPDATE 11:07 p.m.: A terrorism expert told 7 News Sydney that the group carrying out the hostage situation is Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda splinter group closely affiliated with the Islamic State.
"Their ideologies are the same, they're looking for an Islamic state, they're looking for a controlling kind of mind," the expert told the 7 News Sydney reporter, adding that the hostage taking represents a "show of strength."
Here's the report:
UPDATE 9:15 p.m.: President Obama was briefed on Sydney siege by Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Chief Lisa Monaco, White House confirmed with ABC News Australia foreign correspondent Lisa Millar.
UPDATE 9:08 p.m.: The black flag with white Arabic writing reads, "There is no God but Allah" and "Mohammed is the messenger of God," according to ABC News Australia.
7 News Sydney reported that the siege may be part of a larger plot.
UPDATE 8:48 p.m.: 7 News Sydney reported that up to 50 people may be inside the cafe.
The Lindt boss has told #7News there are 50 people inside the Martin Place cafe as the siege approaches its third hour..— Kristy Mayr (@KristyMayr7) December 15, 2014
UPDATE 8:05 p.m.: 7 News Sydney reported that 13 people are being held hostage in the shop. The outlet also reported that a gunman was using a young cafe worker as a human shield and that a middle-aged man wearing a black bandana was seen directing hostages inside the cafe.
Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
SYDNEY (AP) — A major police operation was underway in downtown Sydney on Monday, where several people inside a chocolate shop and cafe could be seen through the windows with their hands held in the air.
New South Wales state police would not say what was happening inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe or whether hostages were being held. But television footage shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass.
The footage showed two people inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it. It was not immediately clear what the flag said.
A police spokeswoman said no injuries had been reported from the incident.
The cafe is located in the heart of the city's financial and shopping district. Streets in the area were closed and officials were asking the public to stay away. Heavily armed officers were lined up outside the cafe.
Here's live video of the unfolding situation:
This is breaking news; updates will be added.