Australia’s prime minister has said the deadly Sydney cafe siege may have been preventable, as the chorus of critics demanding to know why the gunman was free on bail despite a string of violent charges grew louder.
Iranian-born, self-styled cleric Man Haron Monis, who had a lengthy criminal history, burst into the city centre cafe on Monday wielding a shotgun, taking 17 people inside hostage. The siege ended 16 hours later when police stormed the Lindt cafe to free the captives, two of whom were killed in a barrage of gunfire, along with Monis.
“This has been a horrific wake-up call,” prime minister Tony Abbott told Macquarie Radio. “This was an atrocity – it may well have been a preventable atrocity, and that’s why this swift and thorough review is so important.”
Mr Abbott has ordered a sweeping government review of the siege and the events leading up to it, including why Monis, 50, was on bail and how he obtained a shotgun despite the country’s tough gun laws.
Court documents detail Monis’ long history with the law. In 2011, Noleen Hayson Pal – his ex-partner and mother of their two sons – went to the police after she said Monis threatened her life. He was subsequently charged with stalking and intimidation intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm.
Ms Pal said in January 2012 that Monis told her: “If I don’t get to see the boys more than I am seeing them now, I’ll make sure you pay for it – even if it means I have to shoot you.”
She said she feared he would carry through on his threat, noting that he once told her he had a gun licence. She said he grew increasingly paranoid when “he started getting more into his Islamic activities”, insisting on drawing the blinds and shutting all the doors when he visited her house. She also accused him of slapping their eldest son in the face.
“He’s always saying to me that people are watching, people are hearing our conversations,” she said.
Monis was ultimately found not guilty of the charge. A year later, Ms Pal was stabbed to death and set on fire.
Police charged Monis’ then-partner, Amirah Droudis, with Ms Pal’s murder, and charged Monis as an accessory. Both were on bail when Monis launched his siege on the cafe. He was also facing dozens of charges of sexual assault dating back to 2002, and had been granted bail on those charges as well.
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.
Just three days before he began his siege, Australia’s highest court refused to hear his appeal against the convictions for sending the letters. The next business day, Monis walked into the cafe, a short stroll from the court where the ruling was delivered.
“Just like about everyone else from the premier down, I was incredulous and exasperated at this,” Mr Abbott said. “This guy has a long history of violence, a long history of mental instability, he has a long criminal record and obvious infatuation with extremism. It was extraordinary he was on our streets.”
New South Wales premier Mike Baird concurred, saying, “I’m as outraged as everyone else.”
State attorney general Brad Hazzard has asked the director of public prosecutions to review all cases where bail has been granted and where there are any similarities to Monis’ case.
“We have always believed that in this case, with this offender, he should have always been ’bail refused’,” New South Wales Police commissioner Andrew Scipione said.
Australia’s attorney general George Brandis said it appeared the type of gun Monis used during his siege was banned in Australia, though he said an investigation was needed to confirm that.
Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old lawyer, and Tori Johnson, 34, the cafe manager, were killed during Monis’ rampage. Officials have not said if they died in crossfire as police stormed in or were shot by their captor. Their post-mortem examinations are expected to be completed today.
Martin Place, where the Lindt cafe is located, smelled and looked more like a fragrant field than a plaza today as people continued leaving thousands of bouquets to honour the siege victims.
Several Muslim women wearing hijabs reached out to people in the plaza.
Esha Deeb said she was there to represent the parent council of Arkana College, an independent Islamic school, and to pay her respects to the victims.
While most people had been supportive, she said her group had encountered some negative reactions, including nasty comments and pushing. She said she was trying to turn the other cheek, as her religion suggested.