Australian PM Tony Abbott said Monday said the motivation behind the hostage-taking of some 50 people at a Sydney coffee shop Monday was not yet clear, “although there are obviously some indications” the incident was politically motivated.
The hostages were forced to display an Islamic flag bearing the shehada (the Muslim affirmation of faith) at the windows of the shops.
The shehada is frequently found on flags belonging to jihadist groups. The Islamic creed reads “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is his messenger.”
“There are people who wish to do us harm,” Abbott said in a press conference from Canberra Monday, several hours after the incident began.
“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that,” he said, urging people to “go about their business.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the individuals caught up in the distressing, terrifying situation,” the PM said, before urging the media to “exercise caution in their reporting.”
According to the CEO of the cafe, there were believed to be between 40 to 50 people inside the shop, including 10 staff members. Early reports said there were at least 12 people inside, a significantly lower number.
Abbott said the Australian police would provide operational updates on the situation, which is currently being treated purely as a hostage crisis and not a terror attack.
The hostages were being made to stand with their hands up against the windows of the shop for the past several hours. Earlier, reports mistakenly said the flag displayed at the coffee shop window belonged to the Islamic State group.An armed man bearing a black headband could be seen though the doors of the cafe.
It is unclear how many armed persons were inside the cafe, but initial reports said not more than one. There were conflicting reports about the weapons used by the man, with some saying a pistol and others saying a sawed off handgun. There were unconfirmed reports that the man also had explosives.
Australian police said they were dealing with an “armed incident” and were attempting to make contact with those inside the cafe.
The cafe is located inside Martin Place, a pedestrian mall in the city’s busy business and banking district. In September, Australian police said they uncovered an Islamic State-linked terrorist plot to randomly kidnap and behead Australians in the area of Martin Place.
The incident began at 9:45 am local time Monday when a call came through to emergency services that a hold-up at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the city was under way.
Australia’s 9news reported that the perpetrator said he has “devices” around the city and demanded to speak with the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.
Security has been tightened around Jewish community buildings in the city.
In September, Australian police uncovered a major terrorist plot in which Islamic State lone-wolf attackers were ordered to abduct and behead Australian civilians as retribution for Australia’s membership in the international coalition against the extremist jihadist group.
Australia has estimated about 60 of its citizens are fighting for the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.
The government has said it believes about 100 Australians are actively supporting extremist groups from within Australia, recruiting fighters and grooming suicide bomber candidates as well as providing funds and equipment.
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