Sydney siege: Timeline of events as they have unfolded at Lindt cafe

At least five people have escaped the hostage situation that has been going on for hours

An armed gunman has taken an unknown number of hostages at a Sydney cafe in a siege which started on Monday morning. Five people have fled from the cafe. Below is a timeline of the events as they unfolded.

The drama started at 9.45am local time (10.45pm GMT).

10.45pm - Emergency services called to the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Early reports suggest a possible siege with an unknown number of hostages in the building.

11.09pm - The first images are released, appearing to show the hostages inside the cafe with their hands in the air in surrender.

11.15pm - Two female hostages appear to hold a black Islamic flag containing Arabic writing against the cafe window.

11.24pm - People in nearby buildings are evacuated.

12.18am - Initial reports from the scene suggest around a dozen customers were inside the cafe in the moments before the siege took hold - with one man believed to be the hostage-taker.

12.49am - Reports from the scene say a police tactical assault team has entered the building with gas masks and shotguns.

12.59am - The first images of the suspected hostage-taker emerge - he is believed to be armed.

1.37am - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott holds a press conference saying he is not sure if the siege is politically motivated and urges Australians to go about their business as usual. He adds: “I can think of almost nothing more distressing or terrifying than to be caught up in such a situation, and our hearts go out to those people.”

2.33am - Updated reports suggest the number of hostages is actually far higher than first suspected - with up to 40 or 50 people now believed to be locked inside.

2.53am - American President Barack Obama is briefed about the siege as rumours surface that the incident may involve an improvised explosive device.

3am - Police say they are still unsure of the gunman's motivation. They confirm there is one armed offender holding “an undisclosed number of hostages” but say detectives are yet to establish direct contact with the gunman.

4.37am - A breakthrough for police, as three hostages are released from the cafe.

5.07am - NSW deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn says there is nothing to indicate the hostages have been physically harmed. She says: “We now have numerous police working on who this person is and what those motivations might be.” She adds that the number of hostages is believed to be less than 30.

5.59am - Two further hostages - both female members of staff - are released, bringing the total to five.

7.11am - PM Mr Abbott makes another statement regarding the siege after chairing a meeting of the Cabinet's National Security Committee. He says: “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.”

8.12am - His UK counterpart, David Cameron, tweets: “I was briefed overnight on the siege in Sydney. It's deeply concerning and my thoughts are with all those caught up in it.”

8.30pm - Mr Scipione suggests that the siege could last for days, saying NSW police have many officers involved in the operation, but says: “We are certainly looking to increase those numbers in coming days if this drags on.” He also states negotiators have made contact with the hostage-taker.

8.45am - The hostage suspect is “known” to Australian police and media, according to reports, but police have asked for his identity not to be broadcast.

9 p.m. — Lights inside the cafe are switched off. Police outside put on night googles.

9.40pm - The siege passes the 12-hour mark, with hostages continuing to be held by a gunman. Reports suggest the gunman's identity is known to some media, who have taken the decision not to publish.

9.51pm - The #illridewithyou hashtag, which was started in support of Australian Muslims, receives 65,000 tweets in three hours, according to BBC Trending.

1.10am - Police say they believe the man who seized hostages is self-styled Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, 49.

2.08am - At least five more hostages flee the scene of the siege and sprint into the waiting arms of police - the first movement for nine hours.

2.20am - Armed police storm the cafe amid a frenzy of gunfire.

2.45am - NSW Police confirm the incident has concluded. They tweet: “Sydney siege is over.”

3.20am - Reports from Australia suggest two people - the gunman and one hostage - have died.