SYDNEY, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Five people escaped the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place on Monday afternoon, hours after at least one gunman took an undisclosed number of people hostage.
It is still unclear whether the hostages were released or if they fled on their own.
Three men, one in a Lindt cafe apron, escaped first, six hours after the siege began. They were followed by two women wearing Lindt aprons.
Photos and video from the scene showed the five escapees running toward law enforcement.
New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn would not confirm media reports that the hostage-taker had demanded a conversation with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and an ISIS flag. But she did say that police had made contact with the gunman.
"Police negotiators have had contact and they continue to have contact," she told reporters in a Monday evening press conference. "At this stage those motivations are not known and it would not be good to speculate."
"The information that I have is that nobody has been harmed or injured at the moment," she said.
The siege began before 10 a.m. Monday in Sydney's central business district, where hostages were seen with their hands up to the cafe windows. They were also seen holding black flags reading "There is no God but Allah" and "Mohammed is the messenger of God" in Arabic.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Abbott asked Australians to "go about their business as usual."
"We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although, obviously there are some indications that it could be," Abbott said.
"This is a very disturbing incident," he added. "I can understand the concerns and anxieties of the Australian people at a time like this, but our thoughts and prayers must above all go out to the individuals who are caught up in this."
Police set up an exclusion zone in the area around Martin Place, prompting traffic jams and delays on public transportation.
Lindt Chocolate Cafe Australia posted a statement to its Facebook page hours after the siege began, thanking "everyone for their thoughts and kind support."
"We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families," Lindt said. "The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."
Australia's top Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, condemned the gunman's actions.
"The Grand Mufti and the Australian National Imam Council condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part, and in whole, in Islam," he said. "We, along the wide Australian society, await the results of the investigation about the identity of the perpetrators and their underlying motivations behind this criminal act."