5 unanswered questions from the Sydney siege
TORONTO – A deadly standoff began when a gunman burst into the Sydney Lindt Chocolat Café in the early hours of Monday morning, taking 17 people hostage, and shocking residents of the Australian city. It ended early Tuesday morning, when police stormed in after hearing gunfire.
But what happened leading up to and during the dramatic take-down remains somewhat of a mystery plaguing families and friends of the victims, as well as survivors of the attack and the public in general. We look at some of the unanswered questions.
What caused police to storm the café?
In the official statement on the incident, New South Wales Police said that shots were fired during a “confrontation between police and a man who had taken a number of people hostage inside a café on Martin Place,” who was later identified as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis.
“From what I have heard, there were shots fired and an emergency action plan was followed,” said Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn at a press conference.
She added it will take time to piece together exactly what happened; police are not releasing any more details on what caused them to move into the café so as not to jeopardize the investigation.
How were two hostages killed?
It’s unclear at this point if the two victims killed in the standoff, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, were caught in police crossfire or killed by Monis. Police have said they weren’t aware of any injuries before they moved into the café.
“As a result of exchange of gunfire inside that premises, police moved in,” said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione in an early morning press conference in the hours following the siege. “Until we were involved in this emergency action, we believe that no one had been injured. That changed. We changed our tactic.”
How was the gunman killed?
Though police confirmed a confrontation with police, it’s not clear if Monis was killed by officers or turned a gun on himself.
“We have the best investigators from the Homicide Squad working on this. We will be in constant contact with the Coroner,” said Burn.
She added there will be an independent investigation taking place over the next few weeks, possibly months to determine what happened in the 16-hour standoff.
“It’s extremely important that I do not say a great deal about the events of the last 24 hours, as I do not want to jeopardize that independent investigation or what may need to be determined by the coroner at a future date.”
What were the gunman’s motivations?
Speculation on the gunman’s motivations was sparked by the sight of a black flag with Arabic script written in white pressed against the windows of the café while hostages were being held inside.
The script, known as a Shahada, translates as “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” It’s considered the first of Islam’s five pillars of faith and is pervasive throughout Islamic culture. Jihadis have also used the Shahada in their own black flag.
But according to an expert from the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the flag is more of a creed to the Islamic faith than any indication of political beliefs.
“You can purchase it anywhere. It has no politically dominant or ideological meaning,” Aftab Malik told The Guardian. “It only has a spiritual meaning.”
Another terrorism expert said the situation appeared to be that of a “lone wolf” making his own demands, rather than an attack orchestrated by a foreign jihadist group.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott initially avoided any references to terrorist activity in his description of the attack, but said Tuesday the siege was the country’s first brush with terrorism in more than 35 years.
New South Wales police said the suspect’s motivations were unknown at a Monday press conference.
“This is a man who had serious history of criminal offences and a history of violence,” New South Wales state Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn told reporters.
“This was a man that we do believe had some extremist views, and we also believe that he was unstable.”
How did a man with a lengthy criminal record slip through Australia’s cracks?
“How can someone who has had such a long and checkered history not be on the appropriate watch list? And how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community?” Abbott asked Tuesday.
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. He later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He had been out on bail on the charges.
Police were investigating whether he was the registered owner of the shotgun that he used in the siege.
And so, questions surrounding Monis remain: Why was Monis, who had a sordid criminal history, out on bail? Why was he not on a terror watch list? How did he get a shotgun in a country with tough gun ownership laws?
Burn said “a lot of people are very tired and emotional at the moment” and that it will take time for police to piece together what happened. In the meantime, she urged residents to go about their business as usual.
“This is a beautiful country; this is a safe country; we are out in force,” said Burn. “Please be vigilant, however, and please, if you have any information whatsoever, please let us know either on the National Security Hotline or Crime Stoppers, as every bit of information helps us and might help us in the future again.”
You can reach the National Security Hotline at 1800 1234 00 and Crime Stoppers Australia at 1800 333 000
-With files from Global News reporter Adam Frisk and The Associated Press
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