SYDNEY (AFP) - A cafe siege by a lone gunman in Sydney in which two hostages were killed was inspired by the Islamic State "death cult", Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared Monday as he offered condolences in parliament.
Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, a self-styled cleric with a history of extremist views, took 17 people hostage at the Lindt chocolate cafe in the city's business hub on December 15.
The stand-off came to an end some 16 hours later after Monis shot dead cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, prompting police to storm the building and kill him. Barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, died in the crossfire.
"The Martin Place siege, I regret to say, was inspired by a death cult," Mr Abbott said in the condolence motion in the national parliament in Canberra, which resumed sitting Monday after the Christmas break.
"That death cult (is) now rampant in much of Syria and Iraq, which is a travesty of religion and governance and which should never be dignified with the term Islamic State." An inquest into the incident is looking into Monis's claims that his actions were an attack on Australia by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, a brutal extremist organisation that has captured swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria.
But Jeremy Gormly, the counsel assisting the coroner in the inquest, told it last week that "it seems he (Monis) had not established any contact" with the militant organisation.
Mr Abbott said the siege was "the act of terror that we hoped would never occur in this country". "Australia is a peaceful country. We are a beacon of hope and liberty throughout the world," he said.
"And Sydney, our largest city, is so cosmopolitan and diverse that anyone can be at home there." The siege horrified Australia and prompted a mass outpouring of grief that saw thousands of flowers laid near the cafe.
On Sunday, survivors of the deadly standoff told of their terror in a series of television interviews as Monis threatened to kill people "one by one".
"The best response to evil is good," said Abbott. "The best response to terrorism is to live normal lives, because that shows that we might be threatened, but we will not be changed." Abbott said the government would learn from the tragedy, which is subject of the New South Wales coronial inquiry and an official review.
Australia raised its threat level to high in September and carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids following a flow of its nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS.