“Greg Bearup, in The Australian 17 December 2014, with the heading “A Convert from Malcontent to Murderer”
ON the afternoon of the September terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane, a group of Muslims gathered to protest in Lakemba. One of them was the Martin Place gunman, Man Haron Monis; a man who saw himself as a peace activist. He stood out that day as the only visible Shia in a crowd of Sunni Muslims.
Monis’s gripes against the West were those common to many Muslims around the world, including many moderates. “You don’t feel our pain. Your remote-controlled bombs kill our children and no one is ever held responsible. Why are the deaths of your innocents atrocities, while the death of our innocents are collateral damage?”
He’d bundled up these grievances and sent dozens of letters of protest to politicians, the AFP and the ombudsman, but all had fallen on deaf ears. Words, he believed, were his weapons but words were failing him. He said to a reporter: “I believe speech is not enough. I believe that we have to do something.”
Last Sunday, on his website he posted a graphic, horrible picture of five dead Arab children, presumably killed in Syria. “This is the evidence of the terrorism of America and its allies including Australia,” he wrote. “Islam is the religion of peace, that’s why Muslims fight against the oppression and terrorism of USA and its allies including UK and Australia. If we stay silent toward the criminals we cannot have a peaceful society. The more you fight with crime the more peaceful you are … when you speak out against crime you have taken one step towards peace.”
He revealed he had recently converted from the Shia to the Sunni branch of Islam, an act that must have fuelled his religious fervour. Beware the convert.
The following morning, about 9.40am, he walked into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place and pulled a shotgun from a sports bag. He ordered some of his hostages to phone the media; he had three demands. Monis wanted an Islamic State flag delivered to the cafe. He wanted the government to officially recognise that this was a terrorist attack on behalf of Islamic State. He also wanted to speak to Tony Abbott. He wanted to make a point about peace and he was prepared to kill people to do it.
What was is it that pushed him from rhetoric and words into violent action?
Monis came to Australia in 1996 after being granted political asylum from Iran. The details of what he was fleeing are not known, but those who have met him say he was an obsessive, obstinate man who liked to get his way. It can’t have stood him in good stead with the hardline mullahs of Iran. He was also a man, one of his many lawyers said, who “knew how to work the system in his favour”.
After fleeing Iran, Monis settled in western Sydney and married Noleen Hayson Pal. It is believed the pair had two children. At some point he started calling himself Sheik Haron, although it is believed he had no religious training and Shia religious leaders publicly called on him to stop using the title.
In 2000 Monis placed advertisements in the local paper and set up a spiritual healing clinic operating out of premises in Station Street, Wentworthville, between 2000 and 2002. He said he was an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic — hardly the practices of a hardline Muslim. He was anything but pious. In April this year he was arrested by the sex crimes unit and charged with 40 counts of indecent assault and sexual assault against seven women who attended his clinic. If Islamic State is hoping for a poster boy, Monis may not be it.
His response was again words — he took to the internet, or at least his new girlfriend, Amirah Droudis did, on his behalf. The video, posted on his website, begins with text on the screen: “The women who get raped are two types. 1. The innocent women. 2. The women who have encouraged and incited the rapist.” With most of her face covered Amirah looks directly into the camera and says: “It is not fair if we condemn the rapist if we do not condemn the one who has encouraged the rape.”
It is not known when Droudis came into Monis’s life, but we do know how Pal, his wife, left it — she was killed. In April 21 last year, firefighters were called to a fire in an apartment block in Werrington and found her dead in a stairwell. She had been stabbed numerous times.
Droudis was charged with her murder. Monis was charged with being an accessory, before and after the fact, in the murder of the mother of his two children. Both were eventually granted bail in December last year after a magistrate found that the case against both of them was weak.
The murder of Pal came towards the end of another long legal battle. In 2009 Monis was charged with sending offensive letters to families of Australian soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan. It is believed he made contact with at least seven families. One of those letters was to the family of Private Greg Sher, a Jew, who had served with the 1st Commando Unit. Droudis phoned his family, days after his death, claiming she wanted to post a condolence letter. Felix Sher, the soldier’s father, said he was appalled when the letter arrived. “A Jewish man who kills innocent Muslim civilians is not a pig, he is a thousand times worse,” it said. “Why should we call a pig a hero?”
In another incident a woman, believed to be Droudis, attended the funeral of Sergeant Brent Till, who was killed in 2009, defusing a bomb. She handed a letter to the dead soldier’s wife, Breanna Till — the letter said her husband was a murderer.
Outside the court he said: “This pen is my gun and these words are my bullets. Despite my poor English, I fight with these weapons against oppression to promote peace.”
He then pulled out a long chain and padlocked himself to a court railing as he held two small Australian flags above his head. The magistrate did not buy his message and he was convicted and ordered to serve 300 hours of community service. One of his conditions was that he not send any more letters of protest. To the obsessive Monis this was unacceptable. Words were his weapons. He would fight this matter all the way to the High Court.
Throughout this period, counter-terrorism police were keeping an eye on Monis, but he was not seen as having been radicalised to the point of being violent. He was seen as more a pest, a bit of a nutter. Police did not believe that he would ever act on his strange hodgepodge of religious ideals.
However it seems that the Shia Muslim was being drawn to ideals of Sunni radicals. He attended the protest in September just before Australian jihadist Mohamed Ali Baryalei issued an edict from the battlefields of Syria for followers here to kill Australians by any means possible. It’s an edict he would have been fully aware of.
After shopping around, Monis found lawyer Hugo Aston. Aston told him he thought he had a case for an appeal against his conviction, for sending letters to the families of dead Diggers.
“It seemed there was a case here for the High Court to determine the veracity of the legislation under which he was charged,” Aston said yesterday. “Basically, on the implied right to free speech, because not only did he send the letters to families of the deceased he also sent them to politicians.”
How much did this appeal cost? “I wouldn’t have a clue, it was all funded through the public purse, Legal Aid.”
Aston described his client as “fanatical, delusional”. “He had nothing at all to do with Islam,” he said. “He was more of a cult-type person, a self-proclaimed sheik.” The lawyer said he gathered vulnerable people around him as disciples and Droudis was one of those people. “He goes to extremes for his causes, but he never struck me as a terrorist type,” he said.
Would he have been savvy enough to know that planning an attack across the road from a television station would ensure maximum coverage? “Oh yes,” Aston said. “He was very bright. He knew how to work the system. He was very much a tactical sort of guy.”
Aston last saw his client a year ago, when he lost his appeal to the High Court. Not content, Monis found himself another lawyer and took another appeal to the High Court on a technical matter, again on the public purse. This appeal wove its way through the system throughout this year before High Court Chief Justice Robert French and judge Stephen Gageler rejected his application.
It was his final avenue of appeal. Monis was told of this last Friday. Words had failed him again. Three days later he walked into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe with a shotgun, demanding to talk to the Prime Minister.