The gunman responsible for a deadly siege in a Sydney café was once on the national security agency’s watch list – but was dropped off it years ago for reasons that remain unclear, Australia’s prime minister revealed.
Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric described by prime minister Tony Abbott as deeply disturbed, took 17 people hostage inside a downtown Sydney café on Monday. Sixteen hours later, the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in. Two hostages – Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson – were killed along with Monis.
Mr Abbott said Monis was on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watch list in 2008 and 2009, but was later dropped from it.
Monis was on the list because of letters he sent to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009, letters that the judge who sentenced him last year to 300 hours of community service described as “grossly offensive”. Monis was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, and earlier this year with the alleged sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He had been out on bail on all charges, but just three days before his deadly rampage, Australia’s highest court refused to hear his appeal on the letters conviction.
“We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence and such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime,” Abbott said. “And we do need to know how he seemed to have fallen off our security agency’s watch list back in about 2009.”
There was some confusion over whether Monis, who wielded a shotgun, had a gun licence.
Mr Abbott, who according to his office was told that Monis had shown up on the national police database as possessing a News South Wales (NSW) licence, said: “We have very tough gun laws and I guess we can be pleased that he didn’t have a more potent weapon at his disposal. But why did he have a gun licence in the first place?” But NSW police said they found no record of any licence.
Mr Abbott promised a transparent investigation and a report in January.
Channel Seven cameraman Greg Parker, who witnessed the siege from the network’s studios opposite the café, said that, as the siege dragged on, Monis grew visibly agitated. When a gunshot rang out just after 2am, Parker said a sniper stationed beside him said, “Window two, hostage down,” prompting police to storm in.
“If they hadn’t have moved when they moved this could have been much, much worse,” NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione said. However, officials have not said if the hostages were killed by Monis or in crossfire as police went in.