Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed Islamic “sheikh” and alleged sexual predator, has been identified as the gunman who was holding multiple people hostage in an hours-long standoff in a café in Sydney, according to Australian media.
Overnight hostages reportedly spoke to Australian television stations and identified their captor, though police requested outlets not publish it at the time. At around 11 a.m. EST, the situation came to a violent end when police stormed the café, freeing several hostages amid flashes from stun grenades and gunfire. It’s not clear what happened to Monis in the operation.
Monis was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to Australia’s 9News. In 2013 he made headlines when he pleaded guilty to sending letters to the families of fallen Australian servicemen in which he called the soldiers “murderers” and child killers. Monis was sentenced to community service.
Australian media reported more recently that Monis had been accused of dozens of counts of sexual assault while he was working as a “spiritual healer” and was allegedly linked to the brutal murder of an ex-wife.
A website that appears to have been made by Monis or his supporters says these latest allegations are “in fact political cases against this Muslim activist, not real criminal cases.”
The website says Monis is “not a member of any organization or party” but he “supports his Muslim brothers [and] sisters… [and] he promotes peace.”
Up to 30 hostages were held in a Lindt chocolate shop in Sydney for hours. In addition to the calls to the news stations, the hostages were made to produce web videos in which they listed the gunman’s demands.
Hours earlier, two hostages were made to hold a black flag with Islamic text on it up in the window of the shop.
Australian police previously had said they had identified the gunman and were aware of him prior to this incident.
Dr. Jamal Rifi, a Sydney Muslim community leader, told 9News that the Muslim community had approached police about Monis before.
“We’re not going to let thugs or radicals or the racists decide our society for us,” he said.
ABC News’ Mustafa Hameed contributed to this report.
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