The News Minute | December 15, 2014 | Updated 9:04 pm IST
After hours of tense standoff, police finally stormed the Lindt cafe where and armed man had taken several people hostage in Sydney's central business district.
A group of policemen stormed the building and visuals beamed on TV channels showed gunfire and at least four stun grenades being used. Reporters on the ground said that after a few policemen entered the cafe, gunshots were fired again. Some of the hostages were seen running out of the cafe.
The Indian man who was held hostage along with the others was seen running out to safety in visuals beamed by Australian TV networks.
While the local media were vigilant through the day and did not allow details to leak out in the press that would only worsen the situation, the gunman has been using other mediums like social media like Facebook to get his message out.
According to media reports, the gunman told the hostages he wanted an audience with the Australian PM, Tony Abbott and a flag of the Islamist State to be delivered to him. As Network Ten spoke to frightened hostages inside, they relayed his demands. He's also said that he would release some hostages as soon as the flag is delivered.
With close to twelve hours passing by since the beginning of the ordeal, the NSW police have confirmed that they have identified the gunman. They have asked the media though, to not report his name.
The PM, Tony Abbott, has called the incident "profoundly shocking" and claims the gunman has "political motivations".
In all, five hostages have managed to escape the Cafe, with two female employees also escaping unhurt from the situation. Three men had earlier escaped from the scene.
Reports also suggest that one of the hostages being held inside the cafe is an Indian IT professional from Infosys. The BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu confirmed the reports.
In recent developments, three hostages, as confirmed by the New South Wales (NSW) Police, were seen running free from the cafe. Reports are yet to confirm if the individuals managed to escape, or were freed. The armed man has demanded police provide an Islamic State (IS) flag to him and also said that he wanted to talk to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The NSW police, talking to the media a little while ago, confirmed that there is "at least one" offender in the cafe.
The number of hostages in the cafe is also not clear, with media reports varying between 8 and 50, and five different hostages have been picked up by television cameras.
The hostages were seen standing with their hands up at the windows of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney. There was also a black and white flag, believed to be a jihadi flag, being held up in a window, Xinhua reported.
"The man inside the café said that if police could get him an IS flag, then he would release some hostages," said a community leader.
Possession of the IS flag is illegal in Australia.
"A contact I know from Counter Terrorism phoned me four or five times Monday asking if I could find them
Police responded to the siege by blocking off the area, which was crowded with families and children. The local railway station was shut down but flights from the Sydney Airport were unaffected.
"New South Wales (NSW) 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 Sydney Morning Herald quoted Prime Minister Tony Abbott as saying in a statement.
Many buildings in the locality, including the Opera House, New South Wales parliamentary executive offices and the state library, were evacuated.
New South Wales Premier Baird said that he has "full confidence the NSW Police are working effectively" to resolve the situation.
With inputs from IANS