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Five hostages escape gunman at Lindt Cafe in Sydney, gunman demands ISIS flag and call with PM Abbott - UPDATED

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Australian authorities are still in negotiations with a gunman who took hostages at a Lindt Chocolate Cafe in the center of downtown Sydney. Five hostages managed to escape, but an unknown number are still being held inside. Sydney’s commercial district, typically a bustling center of the country’s most populous city, has been shut down as police try to bring the situation to a peaceful end. According to Sky News, the situation began at 10 a.m. local time on Monday and the standoff is now past 12 hours. In addition, the Sydney Opera House was evacuated after there were reports of a suspicious package there. Hours after the siege began, hostages contacted news organizations to announce the gunman’s demands. CNN reports that he is demanding an ISIS flag and wants to talk to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on a phone. After the demands surfaced, five hostages fled. The names of the hostages haven’t been released. During the siege, hostages have been seen holding up a flag with Islamic text, but different from the flag used by ISIS. “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God,” the text reads. “Our plan, our only goal tonight is to get those people who are currently caught in that building, out of there,” Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said in a press conference, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free.” Australia’s ABC News reports that it was one of the media outlets contacted by the gunman. However, police asked the press not to broadcast the calls or reveal the identity of the man. ABC adds that Abbott believes that this could be politically motivated. He also praised the hard work of police and other agencies. “This is a very disturbing incident,” the prime minister said. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.” Abbott added, “Yes it is a day which has tested us, but so far like Australians in all sorts of situations, we have risen to the challenge.” image of Tony Abbott courtesy of INFphoto.com