Sydney: An Indian techie was among an unknown number of people taken hostage on Monday by an armed man at a popular cafe in Sydney and forced to display an Islamic flag, triggering a security alert and an evacuation of nearby buildings, including the Indian consulate in Australia's largest city.
The incident happened at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, the heart of Sydney's business district.
Authorities sealed off surrounding streets, evacuated people from buildings, and suspended rail services following the siege in the capital of New South Wales (NSW).
NSW Police have activated Task Force Pioneer, which they use in terrorism related incidents, to handle the pre-Christmas incident.
Martin Place -- a public pedestrian thoroughfare through the heart of the city, joining its parliamentary, legal and retail districts -- Sydney Opera House, State Library, US consulate and all court houses here have been evacuated.
It was not clear exactly how many people remained inside the cafe at Martin Place, a plaza that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year.
However, Sky News reported that about 12 people were being held hostage.
Andrew Scipione, the commissioner of the New South Wales police, said at a news briefing that an unknown number of hostages were being held in the cafe by at least one gunman.
Bengaluru-headquartered Infosys said one of its employees is among the hostages at the cafe.
"We can confirm that one Infosys employee is among the hostages at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney," the company said in a statement without naming the person.
"We are also in the process of confirming the whereabouts of all our other employees in the city. We are in constant touch with the local authorities and Indian consulate in Sydney for updates on the situation on ground," Infosys said.
Just over five hours into the siege, five people, including a woman, were seen running out of the cafe. Two came out through the front door and one through the fire escape. It is still not known whether they were freed or escaped.
Television footage showed people inside the cafe with their hands pressed against the window holding the black flag with Arabic script known as Shahadah, a prayer spoken in mosques daily. The flag displayed was not one specific to the Islamic State terror group, reports said.
The government said there was no clear motivation but the flag appeared to be one commonly used by jihadist groups.
"There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is his messenger" was written on the black flag.
The gunman is being described as being in his forties, wearing a black vest. Police said they are in contact with the gunman.