Much of downtown Sydney closed down on Monday as a suspected lone gunman entered the Lindt Chocolate Café in the central business district, locked the doors, and took everyone in the coffee and chocolate shop hostage, reportedly with a shotgun he'd carried in a blue bag. The gunman appears to be middle aged, is wearing a bandana, and initially made hostages hold a black flag used by Islamic extremists (not the ISIS flag) up to a window.
Five hostages have left the cafe, and at least some of those three men and two women are believed to have escaped. Soon after the last two of the five hostages left, the gunman ordered one of the hostages to shut off the lights, for unknown reasons. The New South Wales police, who are in charge of the standoff, say they are in negotiations with the hostage-taker, though they won't discuss his demands or most other details. No injuries have been reported.
Sydney officials have announced that an "exclusion zone" around the cafe, on Martin Place near Elizabeth St., will remain closed on Tuesday. People who work in that area will be asked to conduct business from home. Australia's Islamic organizations have unequivocally denounced the attack, and amid fears that civilians will retaliate against people in Muslim garb — especially women — on public transportation, Australians are tweeting messages of support using the hashtag #illridewithyou. --Peter Weber