A police operation is underway at a café in the Australian city of Sydney, where hostages are being held by unknown Muslim ISIS attackers and a black Jihadist flag can be seen. It comes amid Australia’s backing of the US-led operation against the Islamic State.
At least 40 hostages are believed to be held inside the café. There was no immediate confirmation of the exact number of assailants.
The gunmen’s attack, which took place in Sydney’s central business district, forced nearby buildings in Martin Place – including the Reserve Bank of Australia – to go on lockdown.
“A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney’s CBD. People are advised to avoid the area,” New South Wales (NSW) police tweeted.
Meanwhile, live TV footage showed people standing inside a café with their hands pressed against the windows. At least one of the attackers was caught on camera wearing a traditional Islamic cap.
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.
Dozens of police, including a SWAT team, were dispatched to the scene, and a couple hundred people were held back by cordons amid the evacuation of nearby buildings.
The flag, which appeared different from the one typically used by ISIS was identified as the shahada, or the statement of Islamic faith. The shahada itself contains religious inscription “There is no god but the Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of the Allah.” However, it has been used by various jihadi groups over the years.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the situation “deeply concerning,” adding that everything is being done to respond to the incident.
“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,” Abbott said in a statement.
He added that the National Security Committee of Cabinet is currently being briefed on the situation. The prime minister has spoken to NSW Premier Mike Baird, offering him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.
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