The Iranian refugee identified as the man who held 17 people hostage in a Sydney cafe during a nearly 16-hour standoff was no stranger to Australian authorities. Before he allegedly turned to public violence on Monday, in a siege that ended when police stormed the cafe and killed 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, the self-styled Islamic cleric and “spiritual healer” already had a long criminal history, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Last year, the paper noted, after a string of run-ins with Australian authorities, Monis was charged as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and mother of his two children. Noleen Hayson Pal, 30, was stabbed 18 times and set on fire outside a residence in western Sydney, according to the Daily Telegraph. Monis’s girlfriend, Amirah Droudis, was charged with Hayson Pal’s murder.
Most recently, Monis was charged with “more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault,” according to the Herald. Those charges stemmed from incidents between 2000 and 2002, when he ran a clinic that offered “spiritual consultations” that included black magic, numerology and meditation. In January, a woman approached police and accused Monis of assaulting her at the clinic in 2002. That led to an investigation.
“The assaults are alleged to have been undertaken under the guise of a spiritual healing technique, and the man warned the woman not to tell anyone about them,” police said in a statement, according to the Herald.
On his own Web site, Monis posted graphic images of children that the site says were killed by U.S. and Australian airstrikes. “A terrorist act should be condemned whether it is committed by Muslims or non-Muslims,” he wrote.
Monis also compared himself to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and said he was the victim of a smear campaign waged by the Australian government and media. (In one Daily Telegraph headline, Monis was referred to as “‘Hate’ sheik.”)
His former attorney, Manny Conditsis, had a different take on his onetime client, describing Monis as an “isolated figure,” according to ABC Australia.
“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Conditsis told the paper.
The lawyer theorized that Monis, facing numerous charges and pushed to the brink by poor treatment in jail, may have had little to lose.
“He was put through, let’s say, some very unpleasant events, involving matters of excrement over himself and his cell,” Conditsis told ABC Australia.
Iran-born Monis — who also went by the names Sheik Haron and Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, according to reports — had been granted political asylum in Australia, according to ABC.
He came to the attention of Australian authorities in 2009, when he was accused of sending dozens of offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, the relatives of British soldiers and the family of an government official who was killed in a bombing in Jakarta, according to the Herald.
In 2010, he was banned from using Australia’s postal service; last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service, the paper added.
Monis, who appeared in court at one point bound in chains and waving an Australian flag, according to the Herald, argued that the ban on letter-sending was a violation of his freedom of speech.
“This is against human rights because if my family are the victims of a terrorist attack, I will not be able to contact them,” he said.
Monis was due to appear in court on Feb. 27 for a hearing relating to the sexual assault charges.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report, which has been updated.