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(NEWSER) – An unknown number of hostages are being held at a chocolate shop and cafe in Sydney in what Prime Minister Tony Abbott says may be a politically motivated incident.

Authorities say they are still working to find out how many people are being held in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe, where five hostages were seen running from the building after being captive for seven hours, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Three men who ran from a fire exit were followed by two women, apparently cafe employees, who ran into the arms of police. Earlier, hostages could be seen holding up what appears to be an Islamic flag. Police say they believe there are no more than 30 hostages in the cafe and as far as they know, nobody has been harmed. It's not clear whether there is more than one gunman involved. Hundreds of police officers have locked down part of the city's central business district and police presence has been massively boosted in other Australian cities.

The police commissioner for New South Wales says the situation is tightly contained and officers are trying to resolve the situation peacefully, the Guardian reports. He did not confirm or deny reports that radio host Ray Hadley had spoken to a hostage acting under instructions from a gunman. Abbott told a press conference that Australians should go about their lives as normal but stay alert, the BBC reports. "I can think of almost nothing more distressing, more terrifying than to be caught up in such a situation, and our hearts go out to these people," he said. Uber, meanwhile, now says it is offering free rides out of central Sydney. At the start of the hostage crisis, the company quadrupled its prices to a minimum $100 Australian, saying "demand is off the charts," Mashable reports.

Photo: Getty Images

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