The situation in Sydney has changed somewhat over the last several hours. The authorities made direct contact with the Islamist terrorist holding a still-undetermined number of hostages in a Lindt Cafe in the city’s financial district, and according to one US intelligence source for CBS News, he’s someone already known as an extremist to Australian authorities. He’s also got five fewer hostages, as a few of them managed to escape from the cafe. The AP has video of their flight out of a fire exit:
Five people have fled from a Sydney cafe where a gunman took an unknown number of hostages at the height of Monday morning rush hour. Two people inside the cafe were earlier seen holding up a flag containing an Islamic declaration of faith.
The first development came six hours after the hostage crisis began, when three men were seen running from a fire exit of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney.
Shortly afterward, two women, one after another, sprinted from the cafe and into the arms of heavily armed police. Both were wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo, indicating they were cafe employees.
The gunman has made two demands, neither of which he’s likely to get. He claims to have some additional leverage than just the hostages to get his wishes:
CBS News partner Ten Eyewitness News reports it has spoken directly to two hostages inside the café, who confirmed two demands from the gunman: He wants an ISIS flag delivered to the cafe, and wants to speak to the Prime Minster Tony Abbott.
The hostages also told Ten Eyewitness News the gunman claims there are 4 bombs: 2 in the café and 2 elsewhere in the Sydney Business District.
Good Morning America has an update this morning on the new developments in the standoff:
The terrorist reportedly forced some of the hostages to call media figures to garner more attention:
The first three people who fled sprinted out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe about six hours into the standoff, while two women — wearing aprons — frantically ran from a side exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police officers waiting outside.
At the same time, media personalities said they received calls from hostages during the standoff.
It remains unclear exactly how many people remain inside the cafe.
He also had the hostages call a radio station to make his demands over the air:
Ray Hadley was hosting his radio show on Australia’s 2GB station when he says a hostage called in on his show’s open line. Hadley did not put the hostage on-air live — worried about the risks — but says he spoke to the hostage in four conversations before police negotiators took over.
“I could hear the hostage-taker in the background issuing instructions to him on what to request me to say on air,” Hadley told ABC News.
With the armed gunman nearby, the hostage couldn’t say much over the phone, especially nothing negative, Hadley recalled.
After speaking with the male hostage, Hadley consulted with police. A negotiator eventually arrived to his studio, picking up the conversation.
Police now say that the number isn’t as high as some had suggested, and that the actual number is lower than 30. So far, the police haven’t been more specific than that. They also think that their perpetrator is relatively stable, as no one has been hurt, at least so far. That gives them some hope that they can negotiate an end to the standoff, but this seems to be a terrorist who has planned this out well for maximum attention. He won’t have a quiet end game in mind.