Sydney Siege: Hostages Held In Suspected Islamic Terror Attack, Bombs In Area

The first clues as to the motive of the Sydney siege, where up to 40 hostages are being held in a cafe, are starting to emerge.

Much attention is being focused on the blag flag bearing Arabic script hanging in the window of the Lindt cafe in Sydney. The flag is not dissimilar to those flown by the Islamic State, with its well recognized white-on-black lettering. Talking to Sky News, Dr. Matthew Gray, from the Center of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Canberra, said he believed it to be the Shahada, or declaration of faith.

“It’s based around a black flag with white text that supposedly the Prophet Muhammad would carry, including into battle when he was fighting on behalf of the religion. The text translates to ‘There’s no God except Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.’ This is the first fundamental tenet of Islam. It’s what you say to convert to Islam and at prayer time. It’s got that connotation of the bearer of the flag marching into war.”

It is believed that the Sydney siege hostages have been forced to hold the flag against the window, raising fears that this is the start of a planned Islamic terrorist attack in the city. There are also reports that the Sydney siege gunman is demanding a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and is claiming to have planted four bombs, two in the Sydney cafe and two in the financial district.

At least three people have already escaped the Sydney siege, where the hostages have been held for over 10 hours. Several businesses, including the Sydney Opera House, have been evacuated amid bomb fears. The area around the cafe has also been sealed, and is heavily manned with armed police. The identity of the gunman is thought to be known to police and authorities, sparking further fears that he may have been previously identified as a terror threat.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the siege as a “very disturbing incident.”

“This is a very disturbing incident. It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation. Nevertheless I can say that New South Wales police and other agencies have responded to this incident with great professionalism.”

The siege is still ongoing, and police are in contact with the gunman, while reports suggest that the hostages are also passing on information from inside the Sydney cafe via social media platforms.