Several people were taken hostage at a cafe in Sydney on Monday morning, creating a tense standoff with police and raising fears of a possible terrorist threat.
As of early morning Eastern Time, at least 13 people were reportedly being held hostage by at least one armed suspect inside the Lindt Chocolat Café, located in the city's busy central business district.
Hours after the standoff began, three hostages escaped, with two exiting through the front door of the cafe, according to police. Two additional hostages later fled the scene, bringing the total escaped to five.
Earlier in the morning, several hostages had been seen in a window holding what appeared to be a black flag with white writing in Arabic. The flag read "There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God," CNN reported.
Prime Minister: Indications It Could Be 'Politically Motivated'
Police did not call the event a terrorist attack, but were treating it as such, according to ABC News.
"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference. "We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."
Hundreds of heavily armed police officers flooded the scene and several buildings in the area were evacuated, including the U.S. consulate. President Obama was reportedly briefed on the situation and major world leaders spoke in support of the hostages.
Australia's top Islamic leader, Professor Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, released a statement condemning the act and offering "full support and solidarity with the victims and their families."
Uber Caught in Controversy During Siege
Amid the chaos of people fleeing the area, the ride-sharing company Uber reportedly raised its prices to a minimum $100 per ride. After a sharp public backlash, the company reversed its position, saying it would offer free rides to those leaving the affected neighborhood.
Jump to Conclusions?
The tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph released a special afternoon edition, blaming the crisis on Islamic State terrorists, even though police had not publicly acknowledged such a connection.
Messages of Solidarity on Instagram
A message of solidarity emerged on social media. On Instagram, the hashtag #sydneysiege was used by people around the country with messages of "Stay Safe Sydney" and "Pray For Sydney."
Margarita Noriega contributed reporting to this story.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.