Sydney siege: Gunman Monis was not on any terror watch list

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the gunman who took hostages at a cafe in Sydney, Iranian refugee Man Haron Monis, was not on any terror watch list even though he was well-known to intelligence authorities and police. -- PHOTO: REUTER
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the gunman who took hostages at a cafe in Sydney, Iranian refugee Man Haron Monis, was not on any terror watch list even though he was well-known to intelligence authorities and police. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the gunman who took hostages at a cafe in Sydney was not on any terror watch list even though he was well-known to intelligence authorities and police.

"How can someone who has had such a long and checkered history, not be on the appropriate watch lists and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community.

"These are questions that we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically, to learn the right lessons, and to act upon them.,'' Abbott told a press conference on Tuesday.

He described Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian refugee, as a "deeply disturbed individual" who sought to associate himself with the "death cult" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"There was nothing consistent about (his) life except that he was consistently weird," he said.

Monis, who took 17 hostages at Lindt cafe in downtown Sydney on Monday morning and was engaged in a 16-hour long siege, was found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. This was in protest against Australia’s involvement in the conflict, according to reports.

Despite being known to Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Monis was not on a terror watch list before he attacked the cafe.

When asked by reporters, Abbott replied: "That's precisely the kind of question that members of the public are entitled to ask. "

"If I can be candid with you, that is the question that we were asking ourselves around the national security committee of the Cabinet today.

During the siege on Monday, some of the 17 hostages had been forced to display an Islamic flag at the window, igniting fears of a militant attack in the heart of the country’s biggest city.

Printed on the black and white flag was the Shahada, a testament to the faith of Muslims. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant groups such as the ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Abbott had earlier said that Monis was well known to authorities and had a history of extremism and mental instability. 

“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability,'' he said.

Last year Monis was charged as an accessory to the stabbing murder of his ex-wife, who was set alight in a Sydney apartment block. He was charged this year with more than 40 counts of sexual or indecent assault against women in Sydney, according to court documents. 

When asked by a reporter whether it was appropriate for Monis to have been granted bail for the murder charge, NSW Premier Mike Baird declined to comment.