Sydney gunman Man Monis was a self-obsessed fantasist who grew increasingly defiant as he edged closer to launching his deadly attack, an inquest has heard.
The man who took 18 people hostage at the Lindt Cafe in December was educated and erratic, secretive about his own life and public about his many grievances lawyers told the inquest investigating the circumstances of the siege.
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 group. The stand-off ended when police stormed the cafe in a barrage of gunfire. Monis was killed, along with two hostages.
“This is not a normal investigation – it is grappling with questions of national significance,” coroner Michael Barnes told the court.
“Was Monis a so-called lone wolf prosecuting an Isis (Islamic State)-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 address, lawyers assisting the coroner painted the Iranian-born Monis, 50, as a man with conflicting personality traits, 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 against 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.”
The lawyers also described Monis as a narcissist with a flair for the grandiose, his 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 the lawyers dismissed any suggestions that 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 court.
“Mental illness may not provide a full answer to the questions about his motivations for the siege.”
The inquest is aimed at determining how the hostages and Monis died, the events leading up to it, the authorities’ response and whether the tragedy could have been prevented. It is being conducted in segments throughout the year, with the current session focusing on Monis’ background.
At the inquest’s opening in January, a lawyer told the court that one of the hostages who died was killed in police crossfire. Lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38, was struck by fragments of a bullet fired from a police officer’s gun as authorities stormed in to end the 16-hour siege. Monis shot dead cafe manager Tori Johnson before police killed Monis.
Monis spoke multiple languages and was well-educated, holding 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. As one basis for his persecution claim, he said 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”.
In Australia, he worked as a Persian carpet salesman and later as a security officer. He underwent firearms training for that job, but never held a gun licence – which has raised questions about how he managed to obtain the shotgun he used during the hostage crisis.
In 2001 Monis started a spiritual healing business and it was there that he was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting his clients. In 2014 he was charged with 43 counts of aggravated indecent and sexual assault, allegedly committed between 2002 and 2010. He was on bail when he stormed into the cafe.