The siege of a Sydney café and chocolate shop, which lasted for more than 12 hours, is finally over, but authorities are only now beginning to piece together the details of who committed this terrible act and why. Below, read all we know so far about the hostage-taker, a middle-aged Imam with a confusing religious backstory.
Who is he?
The man is said to be 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, who refers to himself as a sheikh. Don’t let that title fool you: It can be applied to any Muslim leader who has a following, real or imagined, and it doesn’t imply any sort of special education or qualification. On his site, he raves that he is under attack from the Australian government, and that “he promotes peace, he is against war and any western invasion of Muslim countries.” Monis is Iranian and is believed to have immigrated to Australia in the mid-’90s.
He was a Shia Muslim … at least until recently.
Early reports said that Monis is a Shia Muslim — a claim that seemed incongruent with his alleged support of ISIS, which adheres to Sunni beliefs. The terrorist group does not recognize Shia Muslims as Muslims, and is playing up tensions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia populations to get more support. (The government in Iraq, as in Syria and Iran, is Shia.) The group even has a series of questions they ask to try to sniff out hidden Shia Muslims in a group. Now it seems that Monis converted to Sunni Islam quite recently — in fact, as recently as a week ago. In postings on his site, he sometimes urges Muslims to unite and avoid separating one another into sub-categories.
He was on bail for criminal charges.
At the time of the siege, Monis was being accused of murdering his ex-wife, Noleen Pal, with whom he had two children. (She had been stabbed and set on fire in an apartment building.) Monis was out on bail, and had also been charged with 50 counts of sexual assault and indecent exposure. Before that, he pleaded guilty to sending “offensive and deplorable” cards to families of Australian servicemembers killed fighting overseas, though he claimed they were just condolence notes. As a result of all this legal action, his site claims, Monis lost custody of his children. In further proof of his delusions of grandeur, Monis said that the charges against him, like “the false accusation against the activist Julian Assange,” are politically motivated.
His long rants proclaim Islam to be a religion of peace.
“Islam is the religion of peace and a Muslim should be a peace activist,” Monis wrote on his now-taken-down website in October. “Islam is against oppression and any unfair violence. Islam is against terrorism.” Instead, he declared that “this pen is my gun and these words are my bullets,” through which he intended to disseminate his views. In the same note, he rejected the notions of moderate or extremist Islam, saying that there is only one brand, which is that of followers of the Quran.
He put up the wrong flag.
Early in the siege, several hostages in the coffee shop were made to stand by the front window and hold up a black flag bearing the Shahada, or the Muslim declaration of faith: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger. But the flag’s style didn’t match that of ISIS. Later in the siege, Monis demanded authorities bring him an ISIS flag (which bears roughly the same message, but in a different style). Did Monis simply have a stockpile of various jihadi flags and pull out the wrong one today? Unclear.