A hostage situation is ongoing inside a chocolate shop and cafe in Australia's largest city, which appears to be being conducted by a gunman claiming affiliation to the Islamic State group.
The hostage=taker has been named locally as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian and a self-proclaimed sheikh well-known to police and the local media, and currently on bail awaiting trial on sexual assault charges.
Five people have escaped but many people are still held at the siege site in the Lindt cafe on Martin Place, downtown Sydney.
LIVE UPDATES BELOW
Here are the major developments:
• The hostage-taker has been named as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian and a self-proclaimed sheikh well-known to police and the local media.
• 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, but there is only believed to be one lone hostage taker
• It has since been reported that the hostage-taker has demanded an Islamic State flag to be delivered to the cafe, and to speak with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott
• Demands have been made directly through at least three media organisations in Australia
• 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 hostages are not believed to have been harmed. Only one escapee was taken to hospital, who said he was in a "satisfactory" condition.
• The public has been told to stay away from Martin Place, home to the state premier's office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation's largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away.