UPDATE: A total of five hostages successfully escaped from the Lindt Chocolate Cafe where a gunman was holding them late Sunday evening (PST.) Police there have made contact with the gunman. No motive is confirmed, but it appears that the gunman made the hostages hold a black flag with Arabic writing. Some news outlets are reporting that there 30 hostages remain in the building, but that is not confirmed.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: A major police operation is underway in downtown Sydney, where several people inside a shop could be seen holding their hands held in the air.
Police officers were lined up outside the shop.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot released the following statement about the situation on his website:
New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.
I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.
The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation.
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.
We will provide regular updates as further information becomes available.
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