Where we stand: A summary of the Martin Place hostage crisis

CENTRAL Sydney has been thrown into chaos as up to 50 people remain at the mercy of at least two gunman inside the luxurious Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place.

By targeting the beloved café, the two who stormed the store at 9.44am Sydney time on Monday ensured that Australia's financial centre was forced to shut down.

>>AS IT HAPPENS: Up to 50 hostages held captive in Sydney's Martin Place cafe

Blocks surrounding the Lindt store have been evacuated - many sent home, but plenty more left trapped in their offices as they wait for an all clear.

One of the hostage takers has consistently used someone inside the store as a "human shield".

Those nearby noticed the increasing activity near the café, assuming it was some kind of attempted robbery.

Within the hour, customers and staff were forced up against windows and a black flag with Arabic script was held up.
It is believed to be the Black Standard flag that is likely linked to a radical Islamic group splintered from ISIS.

This was now a hostage situation.
 

>>ANALYSIS: Lindt hostages 'sitting on a powderkeg', says Ware
 

One of the staffers from the nearby BNP Paribas building spoke to APN earlier today:

"We were initially told it was an armed hold up so we were actually taking it very lightly. We thought it was a thug wanting cash," she said.

"As soon as we saw the Islamic flag you could see the realisation on everyone's faces that this is really serious.

"I am terrified there is children in there, David Jones is just down the street so there are heaps of mums with kids going to see Santa and hanging around Martin Place.

 

Speculation has been rife through the media, with reports those in control of the store were demanding to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, that they have "devices" located throughout the city, and perhaps even have explosives on themselves.

Mr Abbott has acknowledged the unfolding siege, but only to give his confidence in armed authorities and urge Australians to go about "business as usual".

"The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves.

"Australia is a peaceful, open, and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that's why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual."

Mr Abbott is walking his talk by having Treasurer Joe Hockey present his mid-year Budget update, even as the siege unfolds.

Premier Mike Baird said this attack was "testing" the public and police "but whatever the test, we will face it head on and we will remain a strong, democratic, civil society".

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are caught up in the situation and we say to them, we are with them."

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione vowed to "work as long as we need to bring this to an outcome".
 



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