Sydney: The gunman responsible for a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe was once on the national security agency's watch list, but was dropped off it years ago for reasons that remain unclear, Australia's prime minister said today.
Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as deeply disturbed, took 17 people hostage inside a downtown Sydney cafe on Monday.
Sixteen hours later, the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in to free the captives. Two hostages were killed along with Monis.
Abbott said Monis was on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's watch list in 2008 and 2009, but was later dropped from it.
The agency was watching Monis because he had sent a series of offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, Abbott said.
"I don't know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don't," Abbott told reporters.
Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to 300 hours of community service for sending what a judge called "grossly offensive" letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.
He later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged in the 2002 sexual assault of a woman. He had been out on bail on all the charges.
"We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence and such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime," Abbott said.
Abbott promised a transparent investigation and the government was expected to release a report in January looking into all aspects of the siege.
Just three days before Monis began his deadly rampage, Australia's highest court refused to hear his appeal of the convictions for sending the letters.
The next business day, a shotgun-wielding Monis walked into the cafe, just a short stroll from the courtroom where the ruling was delivered.