MOSCOW, December 15 (Sputnik) — A sole armed man took an unknown number of people hostage at a Sydney cafe in an incident that is not yet classified as a terrorist act, Australian police told reporters Monday.
"I can confirm for you that we have an armed offender in premises holding an undisclosed number of hostages," New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a press conference.
Unconfirmed reports on local news outlets alleged the hostage-taker contacted a local radio host, claiming four explosive devices were planted across Sydney and demanding to speak with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The CEO of the establishment under siege was reported by the News Corp online outlet to peg the number of hostages at 40 to 50 people.
Scipione neither confirmed nor denied the reports, while Abbott urged the Australian public to "go about their business as usual" in an earlier press conference.
At around 10:00 a.m. local time (02:00 a.m. Moscow) on Monday, at least 13 and possibly up to 50 customers and staff were taken hostage by an armed person at Sydney's Lindt Cafe. Several media outlets reported that the suspect was carrying a backpack and a device that looked similar to a suicide belt. The Sydney Opera House a few hundred meters from the area was evacuated due to a suspicious object.
According to reports, several hostages were forced to hold up a black flag with white writing in the window. A terrorism expert later told local 7News TV channel that though it appeared to bear a testimony of faith in Allah and the prophet Mohammad, it was not that of the Islamic State (IS). The IS flag bears two different inscriptions, one inside a white circle.
Australian authorities issued the country's first high-level terror alert in September. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that an Islamic State (IS) leader ordered his followers to carry out a number of "demonstration killings" in Australia. The terrorists were reportedly tasked with randomly choosing a victim, wrapping them in the extremist group's flag and beheading them.