The Sydney hostage standoff at the Lindt chocolate store on Martin Place continues well into its 13th hour, where the latest news is that five people have escaped with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down, authorities said ABC reports. 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.
Additionally, according to Reuters, Australian police said on Monday they are monitoring alleged demands made on social media by hostages being held in a siege at a Sydney cafe and the "situation is contained in one area".
Network 10 reported that two female hostages had called with claims from the gunman that two bombs were planted elsewhere in the city.
Three men and two women, who sprinted from the Lindt Chocolate Cafe, told the media that the man had warned them that two bombs were set to explode in the cafe, and other bombs were planted at two locations in the city.
Social media posts by alleged hostages claimed the gunman wanted to speak directly with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
"That is forming a part of our tactical response in how to handle this," Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said of the reports, declining to comment on any demands from the hostage-taker. She said people should go about their business as normal in Sydney.
Elsewhere, Xinhua reports that the hostage-taker gunman has been identified after five hostages managed to flee the hours-long siege. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) reported that the man was known to police, but it has been told not to reveal his name.
The armed man also demanded the delivery of an Islamic State (IS) flag and a conversation with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The escapees told Channel 10 TV that the man forced his captives to call him "brother" and would release a hostage if the flag was delivered. That should put the heated discussion about just what flag is being shown in the window, to rest. It would appear that the gunman is at least superficially an ISIS sympathzier, who just couldn't get his hands on the right flag in advance.
The siege began at 9:40 a.m. local time (2240 GMT), and has involved hundreds of armed police who surrounded the cafe located at the Martin Place in Sydney's central business district.
The government convened a meeting of the National Security Committee this morning. It has been warning for months that a terror attack could happen in Australia.
"We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that it could be," Prime Minister Abbott said in the capital of Canberra.
After the anti-terror raids in September, he said all that was required for a domestic IS-ordered terror attack was a "knife, iPhone and a victim."
New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters that the police were doing all they could to resolve the situation peacefully.
"The officers there are well trained. They know what they are doing," he said, adding that there were tight controls around the location, and the police had not made contact with the gunman.
Scipione said the police still did not know the his motivation and were working to determine where he was from.
Perhaps the best summary of current, very fluid events, comes from the latest headline from Reuters: Sydney gripped by fear.
Finally, in what is said to be an unrelated incident, four gunmen took a man hostage in an apartment in the Belgian city of Ghent on Monday, officials said, adding there was no initial evidence linking the assault to a jihadist organization. Belgian police cordoned off part of the city after the four men were seen entering the building in the Dampoort district, where they took a hostage. "For the time being we have no indication that there is a link to terrorism," a spokeswoman for state prosecutors said.
According to more recent reports, the Belgian hostage situation appears to have just ended.
Hostage situation at Dampoort #Ghent officialy over, as confirmed by prosecutor's office.— Bert Staes (@bertstaes) December 15, 2014
As for the Syndey standoff, follow the development with the following live feed.