THE man who took 18 people hostage at a Sydney café last year was educated and erratic, secretive about his own life but open about his many grievances, and a self-obsessed liar who grew increasingly defiant as he edged closer to launching his deadly attack, an inquest heard yesterday.
Details of Man Monis’s life and death are being examined at an inquest into December’s siege at the Lindt Café, in which a shotgun-wielding Monis took customers and workers captive and made a series of demands, including that he be delivered a flag of the Islamic State (Isis) terrorist group.
The stand-off ended when police stormed the café. Monis and two hostages were killed.
“This is not a normal investigation – it is grappling with questions of national significance,” New South Wales state coroner Michael Barnes told the inquest. “Was Monis a so-called lone wolf prosecuting an Isis-inspired terrorist act, or was he a deranged individual pursuing some personal, private grievance in a public manner? They are real questions we must try and answer if an explanation for the siege is to be forthcoming and strategies to avoid a repeat are to be developed.”
In their opening addresses, lawyers assisting the coroner painted Iranian-born Monis, 50, as a man who was both compliant and contrarian when it came to authority.
He dutifully registered his many name changes, filed his taxes and applied for police approval ahead of his frequent protests. But those protests were often dramatic, with Monis chaining himself to buildings and staging a hunger strike. He obsessively pursued perceived injustices by various authorities, in one instance flying to New Zealand and returning immediately for the sole purpose of proving he was being treated unreasonably by customs officials.
“He could be plausible, courteous and controlled,” lawyer Sophie Callan said. “But he was also almost entirely consumed in his own self-importance and, when challenged, his self-control would occasionally slip and his reaction was disproportionate.”
Lawyers described Monis as a narcissist with a flair for the grandiose, who told lies, half-truths and impossible-to-verify tales both large and small – from bragging about being an Iranian spy to shaving 12 years off his age upon meeting his future wife. But they dismissed any suggestion he was severely mentally ill.
“Mr Monis, as we shall see, unquestionably had at stages in his life some mental health issues, but I say at the outset that any such issues appear to be modest,” lawyer Jeremy Gormly told the hearing. “Mental illness may not provide a full answer to the questions about his motivations for the siege.”
At its opening in January, a lawyer told the inquest that hostage Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old lawyer, had been killed after being struck by fragments of a bullet fired from a police officer’s gun as authorities stormed in to end the 16-hour stand-off.
Monis shot and killed café manager Tori Johnson, and police shot Monis.
Monis was born in Iran in 1964. He spoke multiple languages and held a master’s degree in Islamic culture and political science. He spent the early 1990s studying Islam, eventually becoming a mid-ranking cleric. He registered several import and export businesses in Iran and worked at a travel agency.
He arrived in Australia in 1996 and applied for protection visa, arguing persecution in Iran on the grounds he had secretly converted to the minority Ahmadi branch of Islam – something Mr Gormly dubbed “almost certainly a fiction he told to obtain refugee status”.
He worked as a Persian carpet salesman and later as a security officer. He had firearms training for that job, but never held a gun licence – raising questions about how he got the shotgun he used at the café.