A total of five hostages are now known to be free from the siege taking place in Sydney’s Martin Place.
Two women fled the Lindt café at the centre of the crisis at around 5pm local time. About an hour earlier, NSW police confirmed that three men who were seen leaving the building at about 3:40pm were hostages in the drama, bringing the total number of free hostages to five. It is not yet known if the five people were released or if they escaped.
The two female hostages who fled the building were wearing aprons that it would appear are worn by staff at the Lindt café. They were captured by television cameras dramatically running from the front of the café, looking terrified, and into the arms of one of the heavily armed police who have surrounded the building.
It is still unconfirmed how many hostages remain inside the café. However, when speaking to reporters, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn indicated that the number may be less than 30. She also said police had made contact with the alleged gunman and had no evidence that any of the hostages had been harmed.
One of the free hostages is believed to have been admitted to the nearby St Vincent’s Hospital, but is in a satisfactory condition.
A gunman locked himself and the hostages inside the Lindt Café in Sydney’s Martin Place at around 9:45am on Monday. A number of hostages were apparently made to display a black flag with white Islamic script at the window of the café.
A number of key buildings in the city area were evacuated and closed following the news of the crisis, including the Sydney Opera House.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the event “a deeply disturbing incident” but been careful not to call it a terrorist incident. Rather, he has said that it has the appearance of being “politically motivated”.
Nonetheless, NSW Police boss Andrew Scipione has said that police are in the mode of a terrorist event response and US President Barack Obama has reportedly received briefings on the siege.
Leaders from India, Canada, New Zealand and other nations have expressed their support for Australia in light of the siege crisis.
The Grand Mufti of Australia, Abu Mohamed, has siad in a statement: “The Grand Mufti and the Australian National Imams Council condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam.”
The situation is still unfolding.
IMAGE: One of the hostages runs towards police from a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. Five people ran out of a Sydney cafe where a gunman has taken hostages and displayed an Islamic flag against the window, witnesses and police said, adding that no one has yet been harmed. (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)