SYDNEY, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- A gunman has taken several people hostage in a chocolate shop in Australia's most populous city, forcing some to hold up a black flag with Arabic writing in the shop's window.
Just before 10 a.m. Monday, Australian Eastern Daylight Time, the gunman held up a Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, a business district in Sydney. At least 20 people were taken hostage inside the cafe. Australian media captured footage of hostages with their hands in the air and against a cafe window, holding up a black flag with Arabic writing.
Police in military gear have cordoned off the area and asked people to avoid Sydney's central business district as the situation unfolds.
"This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well-trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot said in a statement.
"The flag being shown in the window is not an Islamic State flag, nor one for the other best-known jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra," national security correspondent David Wroe told the Sydney Morning Herald. "Rather, it appears to be a Shahada flag, which represents a general expression of faith in Islam, though has been co-opted by various jihadist groups."
However, Greg Barton, a terrorism expert at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told the Herald that "getting hold of an [Islamic State] flag would be quite difficult, and people will make do with what they have got. That means it doesn't help confirm or rule out that the hostage-takers' affiliation is with Islamic State or any other group."