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Gunman takes people hostage in Sydney cafe, shows black flag

On Monday morning, a gunman entered the Lindt Chocolate Café in downtown Sydney and took an unknown number of patrons and staff hostage. Some of the hostages have been seen holding a black flag with Arabic script — believed to be a Muslim statement of faith — in the window, though officials say they have not yet been in contact with the hostage taker.

"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator — we don't know whether this is politically motivated — although obviously there are some indications that it could be," said Prime Minister Tony Abbott from Canberra, the capital. "The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves," he added. "Australia is a peaceful, open, and generous society and nothing should ever change that, and that is why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual."

The incident started just before 10 a.m. local time, but has continued throughout the afternoon, with the area around the cafe and chocolate shop, on Martin Place near Elizabeth St., shut down by heavily armed police. You can watch a montage of reports from the ongoing standoff below.

UPDATE: Five hostages have escaped the cafe, reports Australia's 9 News, which says about 15 hostages remain. Police are also reportedly in direct contact with the gunman.

Channel Seven's Chris Reason has a view into the cafe:

New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn says that the police are negotiating with the hostage-taker, and that "the aim is a peaceful resolution."