Dramatic video shows hostages fleeing a Syndey cafe during a standoff that gripped the city.

A hostage crisis at a central Sydney cafe dragged deep into the Australian night with a lone gunman issuing demands and claiming to have bombs scattered around the city, multiple media outlets were reporting Monday.

The gunman released videos stating that he wants an Islamic State flag and a phone call from Austrian prime minister Tony Abbott. He also has made bomb threats, media outlets including Sky News Australia were reporting.

More than 12 hours after the siege began, Monday night turned into Tuesday morning in Sydney. Hundreds of heavily armed police officers, many in sniper positions, had taken control of the streets around the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, the heart of the city’s financial and shopping district.

Five hostages were able to flee to safety; an undisclosed number of hostages remained in the cafe, police said.

“We are doing all we can to set you free,” New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a press conference.

At least five people were seen fleeing from the cafe in Sydney, Australia, where a gunman is holding a group of people hostage. (Dec. 15)
Associated Press

The incident began at around 9:45 a.m local time — Sydney is 16 hours ahead of New York. Scipione saidthat if people were being contacted by hostages, “we would ask them to ensure the man inside speaks to police.”

He said he was not in a position to go into details about “who is in there, and how many are in there.”

Three people ran out of the cafe six hours into the hostage crisis. About an hour later, two women wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo fled the cafe into the arms of heavily armed police officers.

Television video shot through the cafe’s windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.

Kathryn Chee, who works at the cafe, told ABC News she had planned to arrive at work early when her mother told her the news of the incident.

She said she saw pictures on TV of hostages with their hands against the windows.

“Straight away, there were three people that I knew….my heart just sank,” she said. ‘It’s just a little cafe, we have regular customers, people we know their orders…we’re already making their order before they get to the counter.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged Australians to go about their business as usual in a speech from Canberra on Monday.

“Our thoughts and prayers must above all go out to the individuals who are caught up in this,” he said.

He earlier said the events may be “politically motivated.”

New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn earlier said negotiators were talking with the gunman.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the gunman forced hostages to call multiple media outlets to outline his demands, and that the hostages also posted his demands on their social media accounts.

Police had asked that media outlets do not report the gunman’s demands, but the information circulated quickly.

The standoff gripped downtown Sydney, shutting down government offices, public transit and schools as it dragged through the day.

The normally busy and crowded business district of the city was on virtual lockdown with hundreds of officers on the scene.

Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.

The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe’s four windows. Reporter Chris Reason said he carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.

Network staff counted about 15 different faces among hostages forced up against the windows.

Australian Police an authorities release information about an ongoing hostage situation in a cafe in Sydney. Julie Noce reports.
Video provided by Reuters

St. Vincent’s hospital spokesman David Faktor said a male hostage was in satisfactory condition in the hospital’s emergency department. He was the only one of the freed hostages to be taken to a hospital, and Scipione said he was being treated for a pre-existing condition. Police said they had no information to suggest any hostages had been hurt.

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird told the news conference on Monday evening that there would continue to be an exclusion zone around Martin Place on Tuesday morning local time, and that people who work there should work from home.

Australia raised its terror warning level in September in response to a domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group. At the time, one man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a random person in downtown Sydney.

Meanwhile in Belgium on Monday, four armed men entered an apartment in the city of Ghent.

Police, who blocked off a wide perimeter around the area, said it was still unclear whether they had taken any hostages.

Contributing: Associated Press