NEW YORK (TheStreet)-- Gunmen are holding dozens of patrons of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney hostage Monday morning local time, forcing some captives to hold up to the window a black flag with Arabic writing, raising fears of a terror attack by Islamic militants.
For at least four hours, as many as 40 hostages have been held in the cafe, prompting armed police to shut down the business district in central Sydney where the shop is located, local authorities said in a news conference.
The local stock exchange and the U.S. consulate are among buildings the authorities have evacuated, according to local media reports. Armed police have sealed off surrounding streets and rail service is suspended in the area, where several major banks are located.
TV broadcasts showed the hostages inside the cafe with their hands pressed against the window for several hours.
New South Wales' premier and police commissioner conducted a press conference and stated that the motive for the seige and the gunman's demands were unknown. They have not escalated the incident to a "terrorist event," nor have they been able to make contact with anyone in the cafe, including the gunman. They couldn't confirm the number of hostages or gunmen.
The country has been on its highest terror alert since Sept., as it was taking steps to quash terror financing and was speaking out against militant groups.