ABOVE: Who is Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis, what are his motivations, and what history does he have with police?
SYDNEY, Australia – A gunman who took more than a dozen people hostage inside a Sydney chocolate cafe at the height of Monday morning rush hour is believed to be a self-styled Muslim cleric out on bail on a string of violent charges.
Local media reported – and New South Wales police later confirmed – early Tuesday that the gunman is Iranian-born Man Haron Monis. A police official said “you wouldn’t be wrong” in identifying the 50-year-old Monis as the gunman. (Under department rules, officials do not identify themselves unless speaking at a formal news conference, according to The Associated Press.) In a press conference later in the day, police said that the gunman was shot and killed.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Monis has a long criminal history in Australia. He was charged with sending offensive letters to families of dead Australian soldiers between 2007 and 2009 and, according to the Australian Associated Press, was under bail conditions banning him from using the mail to contact soldiers’ families. The AP reported he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for what a judge called “grossly offensive” letters.
Monis described his letters as “flowers of advice,” at the time, adding: “Always, I stand behind my beliefs.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says Monis was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory to the murder of Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set afire in April 2013. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Pal was Monis’ ex-wife.
Monis was also charged with 40 indecent and sexual assault charges in October, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
A website which uses his name and may be linked to Haron is currently offline, but an archived version says the charges against him “are in fact political cases against this Muslim activist, not real criminal cases.”
“Please note that Sheikh Haron is not a member of any organization or party. However, he supports his Muslim brothers & sisters, he is against oppression, he promotes peace, he is against war and any western invasion of Muslim countries,” reads the website.
His former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monis is a “one-off random individual.”
“It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged goods individual who’s done something outrageous,” Conditsis said. “His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness.”
Police now say the siege is over after more than 16 hours.
With files from the Associated Press