December 15, 2014|7:15 am

(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)A hostage runs towards a police officer outside Lindt cafe, where other hostages are being held, in Martin Place in central Sydney December 15, 2014. Two more hostages have run out of the cafe at the center of a siege in Sydney, Australia's largest city, according to a Reuters witness at the site. The two women were both wearing aprons indicating they were staff at the Lindt cafe where a gunman has been holding an unknown number of hostages for several hours. Three men had earlier run out of the cafe.


Five of an unknown number of hostages being held by an unidentified armed assailant inside a central Sydney cafe managed to escape Monday morning. The motive of the hostage-taker remains unclear but two people have been seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it inside the cafe.

Three people came running out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney area about six hours after the seize began, while two more, both women and wearing aprons, sprinted out through a fire exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police Monday morning, ABC News reports.

"The first thing we will do is make sure they are OK and then we will work with these people to find out some more information," New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn was quoted as saying. "Our No. 1 aim is to resolve this incident peacefully."

Police were in the process of negotiating with the hostage-taker.

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The motive behind the attack remains unclear, but a black Islamic flag with Arabic writing has earlier been seen in the store window.

Australia is a U.S. ally in fighting the Islamic State, or ISIS, terror group in Syria and Iraq, and therefore has been on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants coming back from battle in the Middle East.

"We have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism-related event. We're dealing with a hostage situation with an armed offender and we are dealing with it accordingly," New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione was quoted as saying.

"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. "We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."

One of the hostages reportedly contacted Ray Hadley, an Australian talkback radio broadcaster, twice during the siege, according to Sky News Australia.

It is not known how many hostages are inside the caf.

Chris Kenny, an associate editor and columnist for The Australian newspaper, was in the cafe moments before the gunman stormed it. Kenny said there were about a dozen customers and four staff, according to Fox News. However, the CEO of Lindt Australia, Steve Loane, has estimated that that there could be up to 50 customers and employees inside the store.

It was the voice of a "remarkably calm" male hostage whose captor wanted him to speak live on the radio. However, Hadley refused. "I told the hostage it would not be in his best interest or my best interest to allow that to happen because I'm not a trained negotiator, I don't have any expertise in this, there are people who will talk to both the hostages and the person holding the hostages and they will be knowing what to do," Radio 2GB quoted Hadley as saying.

Australia's Muslim leaders have denounced the attack.

Muslims "condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam," Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, Grand Mufti of Australia, said in a statement he posted on his Facebook page.

"We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Caf at Martin Place," the caf said on its Facebook page. "We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."