AUSTRALIA HOSTAGES 4th UPD - V
A gunman continues to hold an unknown number of people hostage in a Sydney, Australia, restaurant, nearly 16 hours after the siege began Monday morning.
New South Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione refused to call the situation a terrorist act, but suggested the ordeal could last for days.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the incident at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the city's central business district may be politically motivated.
Early in the crisis, hostages were seen standing with their hands pushed up against the windows. A black flag with the Islamic creed known as the Shahada written in white could be seen through the glass.
((OPT: The phrase is a declaration of faith for Muslims around the world and translates to "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Radical Islamist militants, including the Islamic State group, have coopted the the Shahada to use on their flags.))
Five people fled to safety from the cafe, though it remains unclear whether they escaped or were released. An estimated 10 to 25 hostages remain inside.
Belgian police have detained three people who took a hostage in the western city of Ghent on Monday. The hostage was released unharmed.
The motive remains unclear, but a Belgian official said Monday there is no indication the incident is linked to terrorism, the Islamic State or the ongoing hostage situation in a Sydney, Australia, cafe.
Despite initial reports that the suspects were armed, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor said no weapons were found.