Australia, which is backing the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalised Muslims or by home-grown fighters returning from the conflict in the Middle East.
A Lindt Australia executive said there were about 10 staff working at the cafe, Sky Business television reported. Chief Executive Steve Loane also said there were “probably 30 customers” in the cafe, according to Sky Business.
Dozens of heavily armed police surrounded the cafe in Martin Place, home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales state parliament.
Television footage showed several people inside the cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows.
Pictures showed a black and white flag similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria being held up by what appeared to be a staff member and another woman. It was unclear how many assailants were involved.
A couple of hundred people were being held back by cordons and the fire brigade’s hazardous unit was on the scene, a Reuters witness said.
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