The gunman who took hostages in a Sydney cafe in December after pledging allegiance to Islamic State was a “complex and secretive man” with a history of grandiose statements and criminal charges, an inquiry heard Monday.
Man Haron Monis was facing 43 counts of sexual assault at the time of the siege relating to his work as a self-styled spiritual healer, Sophie Callan, junior counsel assisting the coroner, told the inquest in Sydney. He’d also been sentenced to 300 hours of community service over offensive letters he’d written to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, counsel assisting Jeremy Gormly said.
“Mental illness may not provide a full answer to questions about the reasons for the siege,” Gormly said. “He could be plausible, courteous and controlled, but he was consumed with his own importance and when challenged, his self-composure slipped.”
Authorities are probing why Monis was free on bail and not on a watchlist, despite his history of violence and extremist sympathies. He died, along with 38-year-old barrister Katrina Dawson and Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, in the early hours of Dec. 16 when the siege ended in a police raid.
Dawson was hit by six ricocheting police bullets or fragments, while Johnson was shot in the back of the head by Monis after being ordered to his knees, the inquest heard in January. Eleven bullets or bullet fragments struck Monis’s body and two hit him in the head.
Monis didn’t have a gun license but had received training in handling revolvers and semi-automatic weapons after he was issued with a license to work as a security guard in 1997. He was later turned down for a security license in 2012 on the basis that he wasn’t a fit and proper person, Gormly said.
At the time of the siege last December, Monis was on bail after being charged with sexual offenses relating to a business called Spiritual Consultation he ran between 2002 and 2007.
It had posted revenue as high as A$125,000 ($98,000) in a year and had a client list of more than 500 people, Callan said. It seemed to target poorly-educated women “who believed they were cursed”, with flyers advertising expertise in astrology, numerology, meditation and spiritual healing.
“It didn’t seem to trouble Mr. Monis that clairvoyance is disapproved of in the Islamic faith,” Callan said. “The business also provided Mr. Monis with a predatory opportunity” to commit sexual assault under the pretext of counteracting black magic, she said. He would at times threaten to curse customers who rejected his advances.
“The likelihood that these offenses would have been proved was high,” she said. “It seems more likely than not that he would have been convicted.”
Monis frequently chained himself to public buildings in Australia to publicize his views and wrote letters to public figures including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth II.
He harassed the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan with offensive comments in a series of letters.
He lost a bid to get the High Court to review his conviction over the letters three days before the attack, according to court documents.
Monis was born in the Iranian city of Borujerd on May 19, 1965, Gormly said. The hearing was shown copies of his school and university papers, confirming that he was probably right in describing himself as a “relatively intelligent and seemingly well-educated man,” Gormly said.
Other self-descriptions were “grandiose,” according to Gormly. Video was shown of him attaining the rank of hujjat al-Islam, a status in Shia Islam. But this only made him a “middle ranking cleric” in the Shia hierarchy, rather than the equivalent of a Christian bishop as Monis later claimed, Gormly said.
Monis claimed that he had converted to the persecuted Muslim Ahmadi movement when he applied for a protection visa in 1996, Gormly told the inquest. His conversion was “almost certainly a fiction,” he said. He also told Australian immigration officers that he risked persecution because of a book of poetry he had written.
The inquest continues.