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Sydney siege gunman was known to Australian authorities

Sydney gunman was charged in murder and sexual assault cases, known for harassing families of fallen soldiers

Man Haron Monis, the Iranian refugee identified as the gunman behind a deadly siege at a downtown Sydney cafe, was no stranger to Australian law enforcement officials or the media.

Dubbed "the fake sheik," the 50-year-old self-styled Muslim cleric who died in an exchange of gunfire with police Tuesday had gained a degree of notoriety in recent years for sending taunting letters to the families of Australian service members killed in Afghanistan, telling them that their loved ones were murderers.

Late last year, he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set on fire at a suburban apartment block, allegedly by his girlfriend, Amirzh Droudis. He was later charged with dozens of counts of sexual and indecent assault, allegedly carried out more than a decade ago when he claimed to be a "spiritual healer" who dealt with black magic. He was out on bail in both cases.

Monis portrayed himself as a peace activist and alleged that the Australian spy agency was conspiring to have him put in jail, according to local news reports. He was photographed with chains draped over his cleric's robes and carrying a sign in which he claimed to have been tortured in custody for his "political letters."

On his website and in social media posts, Monis is said to have railed against the United States and Australia for their military actions against Islamic militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His site, which was shut down Monday along with a Facebook page, reportedly carried a photograph of a dead woman and three children, all bleeding, with the words: "This is an evidence for the terrorism of America and its allies including Australia. This result of their airstrikes."

Monis appears to have been particularly irked by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent comments that migrants who came to Australia should condemn extremism and "join Team Australia."

"Shame on Team Australia and shame on those racist and terrorist Australians who support the governments of America and its allies including Australia," Monis reportedly wrote on his Facebook page, which he described as "Team Islam against Australian oppression and terrorism."

Monis, who was previously known as Manteghi Boroujerdi, sought asylum in Australia in 1996, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in 2001 that he had worked for the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and had fled the country in fear for his life. His wife and two daughters were under house arrest at the time, the station reported.

Monis' site apparently included a post that suggested he had recently converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam.

"I used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying, using a derogatory term for Shiites.

Among his reported demands Monday and Tuesday were that he be brought the flag of Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria for its self-styled Islamic caliphate. Hostages were also forced to hold up a black banner inscribed with the shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith.

But there was no indication that Monis was in touch with Islamic State or any other organized terrorist group. Australian police and the suspect's former attorney, Manny Conditsis, said that they believed he acted alone.

"His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Conditsis said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

He said Monis claimed to have been subjected to "some very unpleasant events, involving matters of excrement over himself and his cell."

"Knowing he was on bail for very serious offenses, knowing that while he was in custody some terrible things happened to him, I thought he may consider that he's got nothing to lose," Conditsis said. "Hence participating in something as desperate and outrageous as this."

Monis was "consumed" by a lengthy legal battle over the poison-pen letters he sent between 2007 and 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and probation for using the postal service to harass people.

He acknowledged sending the letters but protested that his rights to freedom of speech were being infringed upon. On Friday, he apparently lost a bid to have the High Court overturn the charges.

Zavis reported from Los Angeles and Dixon from Nairobi, Kenya.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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