An employee of software giant Infosys was among the people held hostage by an unidentified gunman and an Islamic flag was displayed at a Sydney cafe in the heart of the city’s financial district, the company said on Monday.
“We can confirm that one Infosys employee is among the hostages at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney,” the company said in a statement.
“The family of the employee has been informed and we are extending all possible support to them in this difficult time,” it said.
“We hope that this situation gets resolved peacefully and at the earliest,” said the company.
Infosys’ confirmation came shortly after the government said an Indian could be among the captives.
“There is some info that one of our Indian IT professionals is among those held hostage in the cafe. The external affairs minister is in touch with authorities concerned and trying to get information,” union minister Venkaiah Naidu said.
Five people have fled the cafe since the siege started early Monday, triggering a lockdown of the area.
A square in the city was evacuated as hundreds of armed police surrounded the Lindt chocolate cafe, where a flag — black with white Arabic writing — was held to a window by customers.
More than 40 Australian Muslim groups jointly condemned the siege at the cafe.
“We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being or to instill fear and terror into their hearts,” they said in a statement, adding that it was a “despicable act”.
Australian TV reports said the gunman has demanded that a flag of the Islamic State group be delivered to him and warned that four bombs have been planted around the city.
Channel Ten said it had spoken to two of the hostages inside the cafe and the man holding them had made a series of demands.
“Our #TenNews team have spoken directly to 2 hostages inside the café… They are confirming 2 demands from the perpetrator,” the network tweeted.
“He needs the ISIL flag to be directly delivered to the cafe; And his 2nd request is to speak to the Prime Minster.
“They also state there are 4 bombs… two inside the Lindt café at Martin Place – and two further in the Sydney CBD.”
There was no confirmation from police.
“We do not want any speculation. We are in touch with the gunman. Our aim is to resolve it peacefully,” News South Wales deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn said.
The report came shortly after live television footage showed five people fleeing the building, with armed police on standby.
Hostages holed up
The first three people ran out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney six hours into the hostage crisis, and two women sprinted from a fire exit into the arms of waiting police shortly afterward. Both women were wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo, indicating they were cafe employees.
It was not clear exactly how many people remained inside the cafe at Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year.
Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken hostage as they stopped in for their morning coffees.
New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said police did not know the gunman’s motivation.
“We have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism-related event,” Scipione said.
“We’re dealing with a hostage situation with an armed offender and dealing with it accordingly. We are ready to escalate should we need to,” he said.
“We want the matter resolved peacefully and we will do all we need to do to ensure that,” he added.
He asked any media that might be contacted by the gunman to urge him to talk directly to police.
As the drama dragged into its 10th hour, police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn said negotiators were talking with the gunman. Officials had no information to suggest anyone had been harmed.
Television video shot through the cafe’s windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.
Shahada has often been used by extremists, raising fears that a terrorist incident was playing out in the heart of Australia’s biggest city.
The Shahada translates as “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” It is considered the first of Islam’s five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.
Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.