Police in Sydney, Australia have confirmed that the gunman who took hostages in a café in the city’s central business district is Man Haron Monis, a self-styled “Muslim cleric and peace activist.”
Monis, who was killed after police stormed the building bringing the 16-hour siege to a head, is currently on bail after being charged with serving as an accessory to the murder his ex-wife last April. Another woman named Amirah Droudis, who has worked with Monis, was charged with killing the woman. She was stabbed and set on fire in the stairwell of an apartment. Monis has said the case is the result of a conspiracy against him by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
“This is not a criminal case. This is a political case,” he said after a court case in January where he also claimed to have been tortured while in police custody.
Police reportedly stormed the café moments ago.
On his website, Monis, who uses the name “Sheikh Haron,” describes his anger over airstrikes against the jihadist group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The strikes have been carried out by a coalition that includes forces from both the US and Australia.
The standoff began at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe on Monday morning local time. A gunman took an unknown number of hostages while brandishing a sawed-off shotgun. Five of the hostages subsequently escaped and 15 people reportedly remained inside.
While the gunman was inside the café, he made hostages display a black Islamic flag in the window. He also released videos describing himself as a member of the Islamic State and demanded to be given one of the group’s flags and a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
His ex-wife’s murder was not Monis’ first brush with the law. In April, he was arrested and charged with one count of sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault in conjunction with a 2002 incident where a woman who visited him for a “spiritual consultation” said she was sexually assaulted at his office. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Monis had placed advertisements in a local newspaper touting his expertise in “astrology, numerology, meditation, and black magic.” In October, Monis was given 40 additional charges stemming from his time as a spiritual healer. He was next due to appear in court on Feb. 27, 2015.
Monis also attracted the attention of authorities for a campaign he and Droudis mounted to send letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2009. The Associated Press reported Monis was charged with “12 counts of using a postal service in an offensive way and one count of using a postal service in a harassing way” for the letters, which criticised Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan and compared the soldiers to Nazis.
In 2011, Australia’s highest court rejected Monis’ argument that the letters were protected under his right to free speech.
“Whilst at one level the letters are critical of the involvement of the Australian military in Afghanistan, they also refer to the deceased soldiers in a denigrating and derogatory fashion,” the judgement said.
He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and “placed on a two-year good behaviour bond” for the letters, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. On his website, Monis posted an undated note vowing “the political ‘letter campaign’ will continue.”
In another statement released on his site in October, Monis claimed to be against violence.
“Islam is the religion of peace and a Muslim should be a peace activist. Islam is against oppression and any unfair violence. Islam is against terrorism. As I have repeatedly said earlier: ‘this pen is my gun and these words are my bullets, I fight by these weapons against oppression to promote peace,'” he wrote.
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