Tony Abbott: Why was Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis free to kill?

Tony Abbott has said Monis was well known to the Australian Federal Police

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The Independent Online

Australia's prime minister has questioned why someone with such a “long and chequered history” as Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis was at large in the community.

But Tony Abbott conceded that even if the 50-year-old had been on a watch list, officials might not have been able to prevent the bloody hostage crisis that unfolded over 16 hours in the centre of the city and claimed two innocent lives.

Mr Abbott has told local reporters that Monis was well known to the Australian Federal Police but was not on a terror watch list.

“How can someone who has had such a long and chequered history not be on the appropriate watch lists and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community?” Mr Abbott asked.

“These are questions that we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically to learn the right lessons and to act upon them. That's what we'll be doing in the days and weeks ahead.”

But he added: “Could it have been prevented? ... Even if this individual, this sick and disturbed individual, had been front and centre on our watchlists, even if this individual had been monitored 24 hours a day, it's quite likely - certainly possible - that this incident could have taken place.”

Monis, a self-styled Muslim cleric, rose to notoriety in Australia after he was convicted of writing offensive letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.

He pleaded guilty but subsequently fought the charges, even mounting a High Court challenge claiming the government was infringing on a constitutionally-implied right to “freedom of communication on political and governmental matters”.

That challenge was rejected by Australia's chief justice Robert French just three days before the siege began.

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Tori Johnson, the manager of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe, Sydney, who was killed during the siege

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Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-two who worked in Sydney's central business district was named locally as one of the victims

Monis was granted bail in the New South Wales local court by magistrate William Pierce almost a year to the day before he picked up a gun, walked into the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's busy financial and legal district, and unfurled a black flag bearing an Islamic affirmation of faith.

The lawyer representing him on that occasion has since described the Crown's murder accessory case against him, which related to the killing of Monis's ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal, as weak.

Fairfax Media has reported that Monis's bail was refused when he was re-arrested this year to face a string of sex and indecent assault charges stemming from alleged attacks on a woman during “spiritual healing” sessions, but he was released on bail in May, days after the New South Wales (NSW) government introduced controversial changes to bail legislation that have since been reviewed.

NSW attorney-general Brad Hazzard said that under amended bail laws due to come into force at the end of January, “an accessory to murder before or after the fact would be forced into a situation of having to show cause as to why they should get bail”.

As legal commentators debate whether the tweaked laws would have kept Monis off the streets, mourners and well-wishers have flocked to Sydney's Martin Place to offer flowers and tributes to the hostages.

 

The Lindt cafe's manager, 34-year-old Tori Johnson, and 38-year-old Katrina Dawson, a barrister who worked nearby, were pronounced dead in hospital.

Mr Johnson's parents, Ken and Rosemary, released a statement saying: “We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this Earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for ... We'd like to thank not only our friends and loved ones for their support, but the people of Sydney, Australia, and those around the world for reaching out with their thoughts and prayers.”

News Corporation Australia reported that Mr Johnson was killed trying to wrestle a gun from Monis after spotting the hostage-taker doze off.

Ms Dawson, a mother of three described as a rising legal star, was reportedly killed trying to protect a pregnant friend from her chambers, Julie Taylor.

Both Ms Taylor and another pregnant woman taken hostage have been assessed at hospital and declared stable.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Dawson's childhood friend Molly Hutcherson said: “She was certainly clever but, much more than this, she was unwaveringly loyal, warm and kind ...

”She was very generous with her time, knowledge and friendship, and her children will certainly understand only this - that their mummy was dedicated to them, and, despite the express career train she was on, she nevertheless found time for each of them.“

Police have also released details of those survivors who were injured.

A 75-year-old woman who was shot in the shoulder and a 52-year-old woman who was shot in the foot remain in a stable condition.

Also in a stable condition is a 43-year-old woman, believed to be Westpac bank worker Marcia Mikhael, who was shot in the leg.

A 39-year-old police officer who suffered a gunshot graze to his cheek was treated and discharged from hospital, and has promised his bosses he will be ”back at work tomorrow“, according to NSW deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn.

Ms Burn has told reporters the gunman - dubbed the ”hate sheikh“ - was unstable.

She said: ”He was on bail and in terms of that matter, his movements will form part of the critical investigation.

“He has clearly made some statements. This is a man who had a serious history of offences and a history of violence. A man we do believe had some extremist views and we also believe he was unstable.

”We will clearly have a look at all the things we can find out about him so we can determine what might have triggered anything.“

She refused to speculate on Mr Johnson's reported heroics.

”I'm not going to talk about individual actions at all. This will all come out in time but can I just say every single one of the hostages, every single one of those victims was courageous,“ she added.

Across Australia, flags have been flown at half-mast in memory of the dead, and public transport users have offered their support to the nation's Muslim community under the Twitter hashtag £illridewithyou.

Speaking to reporters in Poole, Prime Minister David Cameron said the hostage situation in Sydney demonstrated the risk from Islamic extremists across the world.

”It is obviously very concerning, what has taken place, albeit on the other side of the world but in a country very close to our hearts, and it is a reminder of the threat we face from Islamic extremist terror,“ he said.

Lindt & Sprungli, the company whose cafe was at the centre of the hostage crisis, said it was ”profoundly saddened and deeply affected“ by the death of innocent people.

”We are devastated by the loss of their lives and that several others were wounded and had to experience such trauma,“ the company said.

”Our thoughts and feelings are with the victims and their families who have been through an incredible ordeal, and we want to pay tribute to their courage and bravery.“

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