16 Dec 2014

Sydney siege ‘may have happened’, despite checks

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott reveals the gunman behind the Sydney cafe siege was not on a government watchlist – despite his radical views and charges linked to the murder of his ex-wife.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted that even if the lone wolf gunman in the Sydney siege had been monitored around the clock, “it’s quite likely, certainly possible, that this incident could have taken place”.

But he questioned why gunman Man Haron Monis, who was killed at the dramatic climax of the café siege, had not been watched more closely.

“How can someone who has had such a long and chequered history not be on the appropriate watch lists, and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community?” he said at a press conference.

“These are questions that we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically.”

Dramatic climax

Monis was killed as his siege of a Sydney café came to an end on Tuesday morning after 16 hours when commandos stormed in following the sound of gunshots.

Two hostages were also killed, and have been named as cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, and Sydney lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38.

Mr Johnson was reportedly killed when he lunged for the pump-action shotgun held by Monis as he appeared to fall asleep in the 17th hour of the siege.

In a struggle, the gun reportedly went off, fatally wounding Mr Johnson and prompting commandos to storm the cafe with stun grenades.

Katrina Dawson, a mother of three, was reportedly shot while shielding a pregnant colleague during the final moments of the siege.

Hundreds of bunches of flowers have since been laid near the site of the siege, including flowers presented by Tony Abbott and his wife.

Police have released details of the four hostages injured during the siege, including a 75-year-old woman who was shot in the shoulder and a 52-year-old woman who was shot in the foot – both remain in a stable condition.

A 39-year-old police officer suffered a gunshot graze to his cheek and was treated and discharged from hospital.

He promised his bosses he will be “back at work tomorrow”, according to New South Wales deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn.

A 43-year-old woman, believed to be Westpac bank worker Marcia Mikhael, was shot in the leg, and is also in a stable condition.

Facebook posts from the siege

Ms Mikhael was pictured being carried from the cafe shortly before the siege ended.

She posted a message on Facebook shortly after the siege started, explaining the gunman’s demands and saying: “He is going to kill us.”

Dear friends and family, I'm at the Lindt Café at Martin Place being held hostage by a member of the ISI. 
The man who is keeping us hostage has asked for small and simple requests and none have been met.

He is now threatening to start killing us. We need help right now. The man wants the world to know that Australia is under attack by the Islamic State.

He is going to kill us.

Facebook posts from hostage Marcia Mikhael soon after the siege began

Her posts prompted more than 1,000 responses from loved ones and people she did not know who prayed for her safety.

But family members pleaded with others not to share her posts, fearing for her life.

“Please do not share any statuses on [Facebook] from the hostages,” wrote Marcia’s niece Christine Mikhael.

“Please do not share or spread any messages released by the hostages as the terrorist is using them as a means of communication.

“This could put my aunty and the others in grave danger.”

Mr Johnson’s parents said after his killing in the siege: “We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this Earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for.

“We’d like to thank not only our friends and loved ones for their support, but the people of Sydney, Australia, and those around the world for reaching out with their thoughts and prayers.”

A childhood friend of Ms Dawson wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that she was “certainly clever but, much more than this, she was unwaveringly loyal, warm and kind”.

“She was very generous with her time, knowledge and friendship, and her children will certainly understand only this – that their mummy was dedicated to them,” she added.

Monis ‘a very unusual guy’

Last year Monis was charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife by stabbing, who was set alight in a Sydney apartment block.

He operated alone, he was a lone wolf. Monis’s former defence lawyer

This year he was charged with more than 40 counts of sexual or indecent assault against women in Sydney, according to court documents.

He was found guilty in 2012 of sending threatening letters to the families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and sentenced to two years in prison, but served only part of that sentence.

These charges and his conviction, along with public statements made by Monis on his website, raised questions about whether authorities should have done more to keep track of him.

Adam Houda, a Sydney-based criminal defence lawyer, represented Monis over the letters sent to the soldiers’ families, and described him as an unsettled loner isolated from Sydney’s tight-knit Muslim community.

“He was a very, very, very unusual guy, and he had no affiliations with any group,” he said.

“He operated alone. He was a lone wolf.”

But Greg Barton, director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, said police were forced to focus resources on groups who may try to pull off major terrorist attacks.

Watch: Gunman and two hostages dead in Sydney siege 

That meant there was only a tiny category of people that police could keep under surveillance, given funding and legal restrictions.

“On the triage priority list, he would be well down that list,” Mr Barton said.

“I don’t think it’s a case of a failure or a mistake. I just think it’s a case of the harsh reality of dealing with this kind of threat.”

‘Deep scars’

Monis was an Iranian refugee, described by those who knew him as a loner.

He left predominantly Shi’ite Iran in the late 1990s after coming into conflict with authorities there, said lawyer Manny Conditsis, who represented him in the murder case.

After receiving asylum in Australia in 2001, Monis became obsessed about exposing violence against Muslim civilians abroad, Conditsis said.

Monis is believed to have recently converted to Sunni Islam after posting “I used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah” on his website earlier this month.

His website showed graphic images of children that he said were killed by US-led coalition air strikes.

While in prison Monis claimed he was tortured, smeared with excrement and forced to sleep on a bare concrete floor, Conditsis said.

“I know that left quite deep scars for him,” he said.

Monis wrote on his website: “Man Haron Monis… has continuously been under attack & false accusation by the Australian government & media since he started his political letter campaign from 2007.”

“He also railed against what he said was a decision by a court to prevent him from seeing his children.

“His children have been taken away from him by the Australian government and he is not allowed to visit or even call them.”