Sydney siege: Hostage taker’s list of offences raises questions, say experts

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – The self-styled sheikh behind a siege in the heart of Sydney was a violent offender, charged as an accessory to murder and with multiple sexual offences, who harboured deep grievances against the government, which he blamed for taking away his children.

Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee described by those who knew him as very unusual and a loner, was killed early on Tuesday after heavily armed police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Cafe and freed hostages to end a 16-hour siege.

Last year, Monis was charged as an accessory to the stabbing murder of his ex-wife, who was set alight in a Sydney apartment block. He was charged this year with the indecent and sexual assault of a Sydney woman. More charges were laid in October.

He was also found guilty in 2012 of sending threatening letters to the families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Such a long list of charges and offences has raised questions about whether authorities should have done more to stop Monis.

His website, now taken down by authorities, paints a picture of a man unravelling, enraged by the Australian courts and by perceived injustices against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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

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

“A very unusual guy”

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

“He was a very, very, very unusual guy and he had no affiliations with any group. He operated alone. He was a lone wolf,” he told Reuters.

“So I found him very unusual in that regard – that nobody knew him, you know,” Houda said.

Monis’ website offers perhaps the keenest insight into the motivations behind his decision to seize an upscale cafe in Martin Place in the heart of Sydney’s financial district.

The website shows graphic images of children that he says were killed by US-led coalition air strikes, as well as media coverage following his court appearances and statements addressed to the Muslim community and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He compares himself to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, saying that he was being persecuted by the government for his political beliefs, and rails against the government for the sexual assault charges laid against him.

“Since the Australian government cannot tolerate Sheikh Haron’s activity, (it) is trying to damage his image by these false accusations, and also for putting pressure on him to stop his activity and keep him silent,” he wrote.

Abbott confirmed on Tuesday that Monis was well known to police. New South Wales state Premier Mike Baird declined to comment when asked by a journalist whether it was appropriate for him to have been granted bail.

Police must focus their limited resources on groups attempting to pull off spectacular terrorist attacks, Greg Barton, director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, told Reuters.

There are only a tiny category of people at any given time police can legally and financially justify keeping under surveillance, and Haron simply did not qualify, he said.

“Yes, you could put him under 24/7 surveillance, but you could only ever afford to put on a few people at once and, on the triage priority list, he would be well down that list,”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.”

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