Though the Sydney siege—a hostage standoff at a café in the center of Australia’s largest metropolis—dragged on for more than 16 hours, we have precious little in the way of hard facts. Police stormed the building not long ago, and the ensuing firefight claimed the lives of the suspected gunman, evidently an Islamic extremist, as well as two others at the scene.
Authorities confirmed the suspect’s identity: 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, also known as Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, an Iranian granted political asylum in 1996. The self-styled sheikh and cleric, who a former lawyer has speculated was acting alone in this violent plot, has a long history of controversial activism, plus a disturbing rap sheet, and was no stranger to the Internet. Here’s what we’ve found out about him.
He filmed his protests and uploaded them to YouTube
A month ago, Monis posted three short videos of himself standing in chains on a busy street with a sign that read “I have been tortured in prison for my political letters,” under the username “Sheikh Haron.” (He also posted to a different account six years ago.) None of the clips has more than a few hundred views. He speaks only in one, while trying to hand out flyers he describes as evidence of his claims to mystified passersby. It’s unclear who he retained to do the recording.
He just lost a legal battle over abusive letters to the families of dead soldiers
Between 2007 and 2009, Monis sent letters to the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan that he said were meant to criticize Australia’s involvement in that conflict and prompt the recipients to petition for a troop withdrawal. These texts described the deceased as dirty, contaminated, child-killers, comparing them to pigs and even Hitler. He pled guilty to harassment charges in August 2013, was sentenced to 300 hours community service, and last Friday failed in his final bid to have Australia’s High Court overturn the charges on free speech grounds.
He created and edited his own Wikipedia page
In April 2010, Monis created a very flattering Wikipedia page for himself that said he had been exiled from Iran—and his wife and two daughters detained—for his “liberal brand of Islam.” His hate mail, he wrote, was a way of “offering his condolences, offering his help if they needed it, and asking [the families] to tell the government to stop killing innocent civilians.” As “Javasydney,” he continued to tweak the page for the rest of the month, though it was later repeatedly vandalized: One editor called him “[a]nother donkey fucker,” and a second opined that allowing “these semi-evolved cro-magnons … into our beautiful country is beyond rational thought.”
He was indicted as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife
Amirah Droudis, at one time Monis’s girlfriend and his assistant in sending the offensive Afghanistan letters, was in November 2013 charged with the murder of Noleen Hayson Pal, Monis’s ex-wife, with whom he’d had a custody dispute. Pal had been stabbed 18 times and set on fire outside a western Sydney apartment complex the previous April. Monis was charged with being an accessory before and after the fact; he and Droudis were granted bail almost exactly a year ago, after a hearing in which he tried to plead guilty to “stealing a breakfast pack in Silverwater Jail” and suggested he was the target of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Iranian Secret Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The court heard testimony that Monis had staged a video alibi and “faked a car crash” outside a police station following the murder.
He was facing charges of sexual assault
After an arrest in April for a sexual assault 12 years prior, a sex crimes squad hit Monis with dozens of similar charges dating back to 2000–2002, when he was presenting himself as a spiritual healer with a working knowledge of black magic, astrology, and other dubious disciplines, and running a small consultancy whose vulnerable customers allegedly became his victims: more than 40 have come forward in the last few months. As with his ex-wife’s murder, he was out on bail for the crime when the Sydney siege unfolded—“despite police concerns that [he] could attempt to extract revenge against his accusers”—and insisted that he was the victim of a witch hunt.
His Facebook page and website have both been shut down
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Monis’s Facebook page, which had 14,725 “likes” as the siege continued into Monday night, has quietly disappeared. His oft-cited personal site, sheikhharon.com, is currently unavailable. We do, however, have an archived copy of an “invitation for a live debate” he sent to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The letterhead notes that Monis is a “peace activist” and includes a quote from the Koran; below, he politely defends his mail campaign. If Abbott disagreed, Moins wrote, he should get in touch to discuss further.
Update 1:43 pm ET: This post has been edited to reflect the confirmation of Monis’ death, along with two other fatalities, in the café shootout.
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III