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A screenshot from live feed by
Channel 7

A police operation is underway at a café in central Sydney, where up to 40 hostages are being held by an armed attacker and a black flag with Arabic inscriptions can be seen. Australia is contributing to the US-led operation against the Islamic State.

At least five people apparently escaped from the building during a tense standoff between heavily armed police and an unknown number of assailants holding hostages at gunpoint inside the Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place.

A senior Lindt Australia official said that 10 staff and up to 30 customers could be held hostage. There were “probably 30 customers” at the time of the attack, Sky Business quoted Lindt Chief Executive Steve Loane as saying.

The area surrounding the cafe has been sealed off by police, and Australian authorities have cleared the airspace over central Sydney to make way for police helicopters.

Live TV footage showed people standing inside the café with their hands pressed against the windows. At least one attacker was caught on camera wearing a traditional Islamic cap.

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The hostages were forced to hold a black flag with an Arabic inscription, prompting fears that ruthless Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants were behind the attack.

Reports on the ground suggest that young women being held hostage in the cafe are being used as a shield, while an attacker is seen pacing around the room.

Police said they have made contact with the “gunman,” indicating that the assailant likely has no accomplices. The officials refrained from discussing the number of attackers or hostages being held, or possible motives behind the attack.

New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the prime goal in the crisis is to keep all hostages safe. He said the police had no information about any injuries. One of the escaped hostages was taken to hospital after being freed, but it was due to a pre-existing condition, the commissioner added.

Read more at RT News

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