Sydney gunman roamed at will – PM

Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Australia’s prime minister has admitted the nation’s security system failed to keep track of the gunman responsible for the deadly Sydney cafe siege and promised an inquiry into why he was not on any terror watchlist despite his long and violent criminal record.

Iranian-born self-styled cleric Man Haron Monis, 50, took 17 people hostage inside the cafe in the heart of the city on Monday. Sixteen hours later the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police stormed the building. Two hostages were killed along with Monis.

“The system did not adequately deal with this individual,” premier Tony Abbott said. “Two very decent people are dead, others are injured, others are traumatised because of a madman who was roaming our streets.”

Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to 300 hours of community service for sending what a judge called “grossly offensive” letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009. He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, and earlier this year with sexually assaulting a woman in 2002. He had been free on bail over all the charges.

Just three days before Monis began his deadly rampage, Australia’s highest court refused to hear his appeal against his convictions for sending the letters.

High court documents show Chief Justice Robert French and Justice Chief Stephen Gageler ruled at 9.50am on Friday that the full bench of their court would not hear Monis’ constitutional challenge. At 9.44am on Monday, shotgun-wielding Monis entered the cafe, a short walk from the court.

Mr Abbott said the government would publish a report on how the siege unfolded, why Monis was not on the nation’s terrorism watchlist, and how he managed to obtain a shotgun in a country with strict gun ownership laws.

“We want to know why he wasn’t being monitored given his history of violence, his history of mental instability and his history of infatuation with extremism,” he said.

New South Wales Police commissioner Andrew Scipione said police had opposed bail for Monis. “We were concerned that this man got bail from the very beginning,” he said.

Asked why Monis was not on any national security watchlist, Mr Scipione noted that the charges he faced were not politically motivated.

“Can we, should we, would we? Clearly, we work on a priority-based system so if somebody is on a national security watchlist, then we pay particular attention to them,” he said. “But on this occasion, this particular individual was not.”

New South Wales courts have become more likely to release defendants awaiting trial on bail rather than hold them in custody, in part to reduce prisoner numbers in Australia’s most populous state.

The siege began when Monis walked into the Lindt Chocolat Cafe during the Monday morning rush hour, trapping 17 customers and staff inside. He had some of the hostages record videos of themselves reciting his demands: to be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group and to speak directly with Mr Abbott. He forced some to hold a flag with an Islamic declaration of faith above the shop window’s festive inscription of “Merry Christmas”.

Some of the hostages managed to escape from the cafe earlier in the day. Among the first group to flee was 83-year-old John O’Brien, who originally went to the cafe for a coffee after visiting his eye specialist.

“I have never felt such a relief as I did when I turned that corner and saw the armed police waiting,” he said, declining to go into any specifics of what happened in the cafe because he was still talking to police.

Thousands of tearful Australians continued to pour into Martin Place, a plaza in the heart of Sydney’s financial and shopping district where the Lindt cafe is located. A makeshift memorial grew into a mountain of flowers left to honour the hostages killed – lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38, a mother of three, and Tori Johnson, 34, the cafe’s manager.

Authorities have not said if the two died in crossfire as police stormed the cafe or were shot by Monis, but reports said Mr Johnson brought the stand-off to an end by grabbing Monis’ shotgun, saving the lives of most of his fellow hostages.

Three women are in a stable condition in hospital with gunshot wounds and a police officer was treated for shotgun pellet wounds.

Channel Seven cameraman Greg Parker witnessed the siege from the network’s studios, opposite the cafe. The network broadcast live footage from the scene until police asked it to cut the feed.

Mr Parker said a police sniper soon joined him, as he had the perfect vantage point to see through the cafe’s windows.

As the siege dragged into the night, Mr Parker said Monis grew visibly agitated, shoving the hostages and positioning them between himself and the windows. When a gunshot rang out just after 2am, the sniper said, “Window two, hostage down”, prompting police to storm the cafe.

At an emotional memorial service attended by hundreds, Mr Johnson was lauded for his reported heroism.

“Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun,” Sydney’s Catholic archbishop Anthony Fisher said at the service. “Tragically, it went off, killing him. But it triggered the response of police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages.”

Monis grew up in Iran as Mohammad Hassan Manteghi. In 1996 he established a travel agency, but took his clients’ money and fled, Iran’s police chief, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told the country’s official IRNA news agency Tuesday. Australia accepted him as a refugee around that time.

The police chief said Iran tried to extradite Monis in 2000, but Iran and Australia did not have an extradition agreement.

Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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