Sydney Siege Review Calls for Immigration Change, Firearms Audit

Australian authorities should make changes to their processes to reduce public security risks, according to a government review of the December siege in Sydney that left three people dead, including the gunman.

While judgments made by government agencies ahead of the incident were “reasonable,” and they had access to all available information, reviews of immigration, firearms and justice policies should be pursued, it said.

The probe by federal and state authorities investigated why Man Haron Monis, who held 17 hostages in a downtown cafe on Dec. 15, was free on bail despite a history of violence and extremist sympathies. Monis, a self-proclaimed cleric from Iran, was awaiting trial on charges including being an accessory to his ex-wife’s murder, and had warned Australia faced an attack for sending troops to Afghanistan.

“The review found that there were no major failings of intelligence or process in the lead up to the siege,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said in a joint statement Sunday. “However, the inescapable conclusion is that the system as a whole let the community down.”

Monis, armed with a sawn-off shotgun, forced some of the hostages to hold a black Islamic flag known as a Shahada against the window of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe. Mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister, and cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, were killed.

No Violence

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization investigated Monis and found he wasn’t involved in, and hadn’t expressed intention to commit, politically motivated violence, the report from the review said. Monis was interviewed by ASIO many times and found not to be a national security risk, and the decision to grant him citizenship would likely still be repeated, according to the report.

The National Security Hotline received 18 calls about the “offensive nature” of the content on Monis’s Facebook page between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, according to the report. The posts didn’t meet the requirement to prosecute for advocating terrorism, it said.

“While he was well and truly on a lot of radar screens, he was routinely assessed as not being a threat to himself or the community,” Abbott told reporters Sunday. “Plainly, at some stage he did become a threat.”

While proposing measures including a firearms audit, closer scrutiny of visa applicants, and government training for media reporting on such incidents, the review didn’t recommend increasing funding to agencies to enforce the recommendations.

“To the extent that any recommendations have resource implications, we expect that these should be handled through ordinary budget processes,” it said.

Radicalization Signs

The review urged governments to support communities and front-line service providers in recognizing signs that someone may be radicalizing, and to help manage them. The bail authority must also consider the accused’s links to terrorist organizations or violent extremism in assessing bail applications, it said.

“Waiting until at-risk individuals develop into high threats is not an appropriate strategy, particularly in the current heightened terrorism threat environment,” Abbott and Baird said in their statement.

State Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told reporters on Dec. 17 that his force had applied to have Monis refused bail and that the decision to grant it had been taken by the courts.

Refugee Claims

Regulation of the legal firearms market should be simplified, and state and territory police forces should conduct urgent audits, the review said. Monis wasn’t licensed and didn’t legally own or import a gun, and used a weapon that became a “gray market” firearm when it wasn’t returned as part of a 1996 national buy-back program, it said.

The review recommended boosting information sharing within the immigration department and urged officials to propose policy and legislative changes when needed to grant or revoke visas or citizenship.

Monis arrived in Australia in 1996 claiming to be a refugee. Iran’s Fars news agency said Australia denied an attempt to extradite him back to the Islamic Republic, where he’d been indicted for fraud and went by the name of Mohammad Hassan Manteghi Bourjerdi.

Individual Rights

He had worked as the managing director of a tourist agency in Iran and fled the country with about $200,000 of clients’ money, a former co-worker said in a December telephone interview. He collected money from about 50 families for tickets and visa fees for European countries and after about seven months disappeared with the funds, said Sassan Khalebani.

Monis defrauded his clients and fled to Malaysia and then to Australia, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, Iran’s chief of police, was cited by Fars news as saying. He described the gunman as a conman who changed his name and put on clerical robes to get political asylum.

“The history of Man Haron Monis suggests there is a risk the system currently may lean too much towards favouring the rights of the individual as opposed to the broader interests of society as a whole,” Abbott and Baird said in their statement. “We are determined to learn whatever lessons we can and take whatever action is required to address the threat of such an event.”

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