The gunman killed when police stormed the Sydney cafe where he was holding hostages was an Iranian migrant with a record of violent crime who had expressed fury over Australia’s role in the war in Afghanistan.
Man Haron Monis died along with two of his captives in the the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the early hours of Tuesday, after a 16-hour siege that had locked down much of Sydney’s business district. Four others were injured as police moved in after gunfire was heard inside the building.
Monis, whose age was given as 50 by police, arrived in Australia in 1996 claiming to be a refugee, according to Australia’s Channel Nine News. Iran’s Fars news agency said Australia denied an attempt to extradite him back to the Islamic Republic, where he went by the name of Mohammad Hassan Manteghi Bourjerdi and had been indicted for fraud.
Iran’s foreign ministry raised Monis’s “mental condition” several times with Australian officials, according to a statement on its website condemning the incident.
In his adopted country, Monis was facing a string of charges, including being an accessory with his girlfriend to the murder of his ex-wife, who was stabbed and then set alight in Sydney. He had also been charged this year with sexual offenses dating back a decade, when he had operated as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” and expert in black magic, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Two years ago, Monis was convicted for writing offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and placed on a two-year good-behavior bond, according to the Herald.
His former lawyer said it’s unlikely Monis engaged in “concerted terrorism” as part of any wider group, describing his ex-client as “a damaged-goods individual,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
In a letter on his website, Monis said he was “under attack” and subjected to “false accusations” by the Australian government and media since his letter-writing campaign. He accused the government of taking away his children and he was not “allowed to visit or even call them.”
“We should care about Australia’s interests, not America’s interests,” Monis said in video footage aired by the ABC, which didn’t say when it was filmed. “This pen is my god and these words are my bullets.”
Monis didn’t have any ties to the local Iranian community, said Siamak Ghahreman, chairman of the Australian Iranian Community Organization in Harris Park west of Sydney.
“We worry when this sort of situation happens,” Ghahreman said. “Australian communities as a whole are mature and they don’t put the blame on a community when it’s one person’s actions.”
Monis, a Shiite Muslim by upbringing, pledged his allegiance to Islamic Sunni extremists about a month ago, according to his website. “I used to be a Rafidi,” he said, using a derogatory word for Shiites typically deployed by ultraconservative Sunnis. “But not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, thanks be to God.”
Comparing himself to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Monis said the sexual and indecent assault cases against him were politically motivated.
Monis was seeking notoriety, rather than fighting for an ideology, according to Anne Aly, who operates a counter-terrorism research program at Curtin University.
“This guy was clearly a risk, judging by his website and his criminal background, and it looked like he was trying to gain the attention of ISIS,” Aly said. “He was clearly highly unstable.”
In November 2013, Monis challenged Australian Prime Minster Tony Abbott to a debate so he could prove that “Australia and Australians will be attacked,” because of the country’s involvement in Afghanistan, according to the gunman’s website.
Monis was well known to state and federal authorities as a man with a history of violent crime, mental instability and an “infatuation with extremism,” Abbott said today. It will take time to clarify exactly what happened and why, he said.
“These events do demonstrate that even a country as free, as open, as generous and as safe as ours is vulnerable to acts of politically motivated violence,” Abbott said.