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Five people managed to escape Monday from the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney, where they had been detained by an armed assailant who was still holding several hostages.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities, from police to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pushed to defuse the crisis that hit a busy stretch of the city just as the workweek began.

As The New York Times noted, the man behind the standoff sent signals about his potential affiliations from within the cafe:

Five people fled a cafe in central Sydney on Monday where an armed individual was holding an unknown number of hostages and a black flag with Arabic script was displayed in a window.

The police, who surrounded the cafe and evacuated the nearby area, did not speculate on a motive for the siege, but were treating it as an act of terrorism.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, at a briefing in Canberra, the capital, referred to the suspect as “an armed person claiming political motivation.” Mr. Abbott convened a meeting of his national security advisers, including the defense minister, David Johnston, and Attorney General George Brandis.

At the cafe, the Lindt Chocolate Café, which is on a major shopping and pedestrian thoroughfare, several hostages were pressed against the window holding the black flag, whose writing appeared to be the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith.

The situation in Sydney quickly became the subject of international television coverage, and at press time, CNN was reporting that the gunman was demanding to speak to Abbott on the phone and to be supplied with a flag bearing the ISIS emblem.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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