SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday ordered an urgent enquiry into why a deranged gunman was not under surveillance and how he obtained citizenship, as security was stepped up after a fatal cafe siege.
Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, 50, had a history of extremism and violence and was on bail for a string of charges, including sexual offences and abetting the murder of his ex-wife.
Last month he posted a message in Arabic on his website pledging allegiance to “the Caliph of the Muslims”, which some have interpreted to mean the Islamic State militant group.
Yet he was allowed to roam free and take 17 hostages at a cafe in the heart of Sydney on Monday, unfurling an Islamic flag during a 16-hour siege which left him and two innocent victims dead. Six others were wounded.
The gunman, whom Abbott called “a madman”, was well known to both state and federal police and the domestic spy agency ASIO, but was not on any Australian counter-terrorism watch lists.
“I certainly want answers to those sorts of questions and there was incredulity around the National Security Committee of the Cabinet yesterday when we were briefed on the details of his record,” Abbott said. The threshold for placing someone on a watch list boils down to whether they are regarded as being at risk of committing violence against innocent people.
Officials in Tehran said Tuesday that they had repeatedly warned Australia about Monis, including suggesting that he be put under surveillance, but that their recommendations were ignored.
“Despite several notifications to the Australian government regarding his criminal background, no attention was paid,” Ebrahim Rahimpour, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Asia and Oceania affairs, told state television.
Abbott said the review, due to report in late January, would examine Monis’ arrival in Australia from Iran in 1996, the decision to grant him asylum and citizenship, what information agencies had about him and how it was shared.
It would also ask how he managed to get a gun and how he could claim welfare benefits for years despite apparently being able-bodied.
“The system did not adequately deal with this individual. There’s no doubt about that, and this is why we’ve got to constantly learn the lessons of everything that happens,” Abbott told a press conference in Canberra.
Police eased an exclusion zone around the scene of the drama in Martin Place after a large swathe of the central business district was shut down as the siege unfolded. But security across Sydney has been stepped up, with hundreds more officers on the streets.
Abbott said he would not rest until he was assured all Australians were safe.
“I don’t want people who are perfectly good Australians to be frightened of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. That’s the last thing that I would want,” he said.
But he added that he would crack down on “people who are preaching hate, associating with terrorist organisations or with terrorist supporters, who are railing against our country and our way of life, our freedoms and our tolerance”.