Sydney siege gunman fired at hostages but missed: lawyer

SYDNEY (AFP) - The man behind a deadly siege at a Sydney cafe fired at some of the hostages as they escaped but missed, possibly because of his limited experience with guns, an inquest heard Tuesday (March 22).

Self-declared Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis took customers and staff at the upmarket Lindt cafe hostage on December 15, 2014, bringing the Martin Place financial district in Australia's largest city to a standstill.

As the siege dragged on into the early hours of December 16, he became more erratic. When six hostages ran for a door he fired his shotgun, an act which was seen as a warning shot at the time.

"It now appears that although his shot missed, the very strong inference is that Monis was shooting at the hostages," counsel assisting the inquiry, Sophie Callan, told the inquest.

"The fact that he missed by some margin is consistent with him having limited experience with guns and with the difficulty of aiming his sawn-off shotgun, plus the suddenness of the escape."

The inquest was told that police had hoped to "contain and negotiate" with Monis, who was armed with the gun and thought to have a bomb in his backpack. It was later discovered to be fake.

Monis, who had asked police for an Islamic State flag but was refused, held the hostages for some 17 hours - over which time five escaped, including two without his notice.

By the time the six others ran for their lives at 2:03am on December 16, he still had not hurt anyone.

But not long afterwards, he ordered cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, to get on to his knees and put his hands on his head. Minutes later he shot him dead.

The shooting prompted tactical police to storm the building. Monis and hostage Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-three, were killed in the firing.

Australia raised its terror threat alert level to high in 2014 amid concerns of attacks by individuals inspired by organisations such as the Islamic State group.

Since then, 14 people have been charged by a counter-terror unit investigating suspected acts of domestic terrorism, Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq and the funding of terror groups.