Update: Monday 11:00 am
CNN – Gunfire erupted early Tuesday as police stormed the Sydney cafe where a gunman had been holding hostages.
The crisis appeared to be over, Australian state broadcaster ABC reported.
ABC reported that two people were dead and three were in serious condition.
Seven people had been taken out of the Sydney cafe on stretchers, and five of them appeared to be receiving treatment immediately, the broadcaster reported.
The fate of the gunman, identified by an official with direct knowledge of the situation as Man Haron Monis, was unknown. It was also unknown if any police were injured.
Hundreds of police officers, including snipers, had surrounded the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney’s central business district shortly after the gunman took over the building at 10 a.m. Monday (6 p.m. ET on Sunday).
Update: Monday, 5:00 am
Sydney (CNN) — A gunman holding hostages in a Sydney cafe is said to be demanding an ISIS flag and a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The reported demands emerged after five hostages managed to flee the building, leaving an unconfirmed number of people still trapped inside during a dramatic standoff that has now lasted more than 10 hours.
The gunman’s requests were made through hostages who contacted several media organizations, CNN affiliate Sky News Australia reported. Police said they were aware of the reports but declined to confirm what demands had been made.
After hours of tension and uncertainty, three people were seen sprinting out of the cafe and into a group of police officers.
Later, two women dashed out of the cafe and along the street to the waiting police.
“Those people are now being assessed to ensure that their health is OK and then police will also speak to them,” said New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn. She said police negotiators are in touch with the hostage taker.
Update: 11:59 pm
Sydney – Hostages were shown running out of a Sydney cafe at the center of a siege on Monday, according to Channel 7 live news footage.
The footage showed a small number of people leaving the Lindt cafe, including one wearing a Lindt apron, as armed police moved closer to the door.
An armed assailant was holding an unknown number of hostages inside the cafe, police said, with local television showing some being forced to hold up a black flag with white Arabic writing in the window.
Sydney – Hostages were being held inside a central Sydney cafe where a black flag with white Arabic writing could be seen in the window, local television showed on Monday, raising fears of an attack linked to Islamic militants.
Australia, which is backing the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalized Muslims or by home-grown fighters returning from fighting in the Middle East.
Part of Martin Place, home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales (NSW) state parliament, was closed off by armed police.
Live television footage showed patrons inside a cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows. A black and white flag similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria was also visible.
NSW Police tweeted: “A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney’s CBD. People are advised to avoid the area.”
Dozens of police including a SWAT team were setting up and a couple of hundred people were being held back by cordons.
Trains and buses were stopped and roads were blocked in the area, with train operators saying there had been a bomb threat at Martin Place.
Martin Place is the business and banking centre of Sydney.
The Reserve Bank of Australia is on Martin Place, while the state Parliament House sits up the top of the Martin Place on Macquarie Street. Government ministers have their offices in nearby in Governor Macquarie Tower – buildings which they share with Sydney’s top law firms.
At night Martin Place bars are full of bankers, lawyers, politicians, their advisers and the media. Likewise – during the day – coffee shops such as Lindt are popular meeting spots. – from Brigid Delaney