Sydney Siege: Was Aussie ‘Terror Sheikh’ an Informant or Just Mad?
They called it the ‘Sydney Siege’, suggesting it was something much bigger than it actually was.
It ended in rather dramatic fashion: after a near 16 hour ordeal inside, Australian police finally stormed a chocolate shop in Sydney’s Martin Place district in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
As is expected, the media moved to simultaneously paint the event as a ‘heroic act’ by the security services, and a shocking ‘terrorist-related attack’, but was it really?
Just seconds before the raid finally went down, five to six hostages were seen running out of the Lindt chocolatiers. A flurry of loud bangs could be heard, followed by a hail of bullets as a group of heavily armed police stormed the tiny venue where a gunman was said to be holding an unknown number of people hostage. The end result: one dead mentally ill gunman, and two dead hostages. It’s still unclear who shot whom.
We are told that the celebrated ‘Sydney Siege’ standoff was the work of a ‘lone wolf’; 50-year-old self-styled, Iranian-born Muslim ‘cleric’, Man Haron Monis (real name Manteghi Bourjerdi).
NOTE: The dramatic scene unfolded shortly after the gunman’s apparent identity was unveiled by local media.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted in the aftermath on Tuesday, that Monis was ‘well known to authorities’ and ‘had a history of extremism and mental instability’.
Just 24 hours later on Wednesday, in PR crisis mode and wanting to distance himself from his earlier statement, PM Abbot suddenly recanted his previous statement, now claiming that Monis was now “not on security watch lists”…
During his confusing follow-up statement on Wednesday, Abbot (photo, above) attempted to regain control of a narrative which had clearly spun out of control. He stated,”Even if this individual was sick and disturbed, had been front and centre on our watchlists, even if this individual had been monitored 24 hours a day, it’s quite likely, certainly possible, that this incident could have taken place, because the level of control that would be necessary to prevent people from going about their daily life, would be very, very high indeed.”
Fundamental question begin arise like – who was Monis? What was his relationship with law enforcement? Who gave Monis his gun?
When the story first broke, Monis was merely a ‘gunman’, but incredibly, as soon as the media reported that he asked authorities to deliver a fresh al Qaeda flag to the chocolate store – he immediately became an ‘ISIS-inspirred’ or ‘terrorist attack’ – according to the global media.
For reasons which may forever remain unknown, ‘Sheikh’ Monis was allowed to roam the streets freely – despite being a known potential risk to the public. He had a very long and disturbingly long criminal rap sheep which includes among other things, charged in November 2013 as an accessory before and after the fact to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal. Earlier this year, he was arrested and charged with a sexual assault involving a woman in 2002 during one of his ‘spiritual healing’ sessions – one of 50 victims who came forward with similar complaints.
An occasion when he was actually disciplined by the justice system – sentenced to 300 hours of community service – was when Monis sent a series of offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers between 2007 and 2009. Because of the fawning media coverage he received from the Australian press over the stunt, Monis was able to achieve a minor celebrity status.
Still, one can only speculate as to why Monis would be able to post such a low bail – instead of being detained in a secure criminal or mental facility – where he clearly belonged.
It’s important to understand the context in which this latest event fits in respect to new international security state’s command-and-control matrix. There are two main prevailing social paradigms at play here – predictable Islamic terror fear-mongering on the right, and on the left there’s fear of wrongly ‘profiling’ all Muslims living within western nation states. Writer Brendan O’Neil explains:
“One side ratchets up fear of Islamofascism, the other spreads panic about Islamophobia. One side frets over foreign-inspired lone wolves, the other agonises over the native masses and their likely response to seeing a brown man doing something bad on the news. Both sides peddle the politics of fear.”
Most of the population are helplessly trapped in these two polar extremes. Both are overly emotive, and highly irrational. A very small minority of population will be looking at this event as a forensic investigator would, devoid of any emotion or prescribed political position, and those few will also be asking the pertinent questions:
1) Why did the Australian media previously choose Monis as their terror mascot?
2) What was Monis’s relationship with Australia’s security services?
3) Why was Monis allowed to roam free and evade incarceration after so many violations and outstanding charges?
4) How did Monis gain access to firearms?
Due to his outrageous behaviour, Monis, who emigrated to Australia from Iran in 1996, became a local media darling, the go-to guy, and the local ‘face of terror’, while achieving favoured caricature status for the media’s day-to-day coverage of ‘Islamic extremism in Australia’. He would even show up at press conferences, complete with theatrical props, adorned in chains etc – all for the cameras.
Well known to local press and on social media, Monis dutifully played the role of a self-styled ‘Sheikh’ Haron Monis. Watch this news segment produced by ABC News Australia which aired in 2009:
Sheikh Haron’s lecture for the Muslim community in Sydney Australia, also in 2009:
The following is a modest sample of Sheikh Haron’s many media opportunities – provided by Australia’s top broadcast networks over the last 5-6 years:
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) December 15, 2014
Following official reports that, indeed, Monis had a history of mental instability, critics are right to raise the question as to whether or Sydney police intelligence unit were involved in ‘managing’ Monis as an informant, or whether or not he was being supervised by a government psychologist and taking SSRI anti-psychotic medication.
Monis: An Informant’s Profile
To better understand who and what Man Haron Monis really is, we can compare and contrast him to other similar caricatures, most notably, those in Great Britain.
As an unofficial media ‘terror mascot’, Monis had crafted a media profile not unlike another high-profile British intelligence informant – the one-eyed, hook-handed, radical Egyptian born ‘cleric’, Abu Hamza (photo, below), who became News Corp’s face of terror for over a decade in the UK. Like Man Haron Monis, Abu Hamaz (real name Mostafa Kamel Mostafa) awarded himself the quasi-religious ‘honor’, or title of ‘Sheikh’.
With Monis, a media personality was also cultivated, although he is only ‘Hamza lite’ by lacking the perceived jihadist pedigree of a Hamza or Qatada, but in theory, his private and public roles would be the same.
Hamza’s role as a state instigator and secret custodian of the Finsbury Park’s radical ‘honey pot’, now appears obvious. In a typical honey pot operation, security chiefs will place an outrageously radical character into position in order to attract “the worst of the worst” and then inform on them to authorities. For years Hamza openly preached his overtly radical, over-the-top sermons at Finsbury Park, often praising Osama Bin Laden and glorifying the attacks of 9/11, all the while mocking the police.
The British media helped to fashion Hamza’s mythology, which wasn’t hard to do considering his Quasimodoesque appearance. The British media repeatedly retold the fabricated story that Hamza had his hands blown off while waging jihad in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the early 1980′s. In reality, Hamza lost both his hands while working on a road-building contract job in Pakistan.
During the Hamza trial, MI6 was even forced to come out and give an official denial of what many had already worked out – that Hamza’s tenure at the notorious Finsbury Park mosque was mostly theater.
One informant from Hamza’s notorious Finsbury Park Mosque, Reda Hassaine, went on record with British press (although this does not necessarily say much because many of these ‘scoops’ are often intentionally leaked to the media by the security services to preserve aspects of domestic covert intelligence operations, such is the tradecraft of these agencies), explaining how the security services kept quiet even when Hassaine was physically attacked in the Mosque. “My minders begged me not to report the attack to the police – saying any court case would make public that these mosques were under surveillance by the secret services. I obeyed that request.”
Finbury Park Mosque was crawling with spooks of all shapes and sizes, and ages. Hassaine admitted that, “The mosque’s notoriety grew. With the influx of many more worshippers (including spies from other intelligence agencies – I was never under the illusion I was alone)”.
Hassaine, admittedly a career informant whose undercover work began in the 1990′s in his native Algeria, along with the British press, were told that men like Hamza and Abu Qatada (another one of London’s mad clerics) were allowed to stay in Britain and “preach their hate” because of an unwritten deal supposedly forged between British security services and radical Islamists, called the “covenant of security”. According to the UK’s Daily Mail, the arrangement is said to, “allow radical clerics to continue fomenting hatred against the West on condition they didn’t perpetrate terror attacks on British soil”.
The Independent reported:
“In a moment of courtroom drama, Joshua Dratel brandished what he said were 50 pages of reports from Scotland Yard of their meetings with Hamza. Those exchanges would show that the fiery preacher was an “intermediary” who cooperated with MI5 and the police to try to end foreign hostage-takings and defuse tensions within the Muslim community in Britain, he said.”
The jury in New York never heard those details. In a clever move of legal gymnastics, the judge ruled the contents ‘inadmissible‘ – because they did not cover the original terrorism offences with which he was charged.
Keen to avoid any further embarrassment, both British and American authorities simply brushed the claims aside, and quickly threw Hamza ‘under the bus’.
“I reviewed all the material before I took the decision to prosecute Hamza and I never saw anything that indicated that he was regarded as any sort of trusted informant or intermediary,” said the judge in charge, Lord Macdonald.
But the evidence suggests otherwise. Earlier this year in May, the Daily Telegraph disclosed how Abu Hamza had at least 12 secret meetings with MI5 and police special branch over a six year period, starting in the late 1990′s. Other testimonies also exist that show both Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada – Britain’s two most celebrated radical Islamists, were both informants.
“It was perfectly normal for the security service and police to have conversations with people like Hamza as part of their intelligence operations. But he would have been nothing more than perhaps a source of occasional information that would have been treated with extreme scepticism.”
In the end, Hamza was extradited to the US and given a trial – in Manhattan of all places, where a jury quickly found him guilty on 11 mixed counts – not of terrorism, but rather “inchoate crimes”, or providing “material support” to al-Qaeda, as well as a kidnapping conspiracy in Yemen, and helping establish a training camp in Bly, Oregon. Not surprisingly, very little, if any real evidence was actually presented which proved Hamza actually helped to carry out a terrorist attack. Instead the prosecution relied on Skype testimonies of other informants like ‘supersnitch’ Saajid Badat. If you consider his role as a British informant, then his NYC show trial was simply a high-profile exercise designed to retire the flamboyant character from service, effectively closing the book on Hamza – for now, while still preserving the details of his true relationship with British security services.
For the most part, both Hamza and Qatada could only really be accused of ‘fomenting hate’, or ‘encouraging’ young unemployed, directionless and mentally unstable Muslim men to go and take up jihad overseas in (western-backed) conflicted theatres like Syria – but absolutely no actual charges of terrorism were made at any stage of their character development.
While Hamza went through the public show trial process, Abu Qatada (photo, left) got a free ticket to Amman, Jordan, where he is most likely still performing his duties (and being paid) as an informant. Naturally, a Jordanian court acquitted Qatada on all terrorism charges in September 2014, ruling there was insufficient evidence, concluding the case was “weak and inadmissible”. With a clean rap sheet, you can expect that Qatada will make his way back to the UK to continue his informant work and resume his role as a media boogyman.
One prerequisite for any managed informant is a criminal record. As a repeat sex offender and criminal, Monis certainly had the criminal background required to fall into the hands of the security services. It is not unusual for informants to feel ‘above the law’ whilst working as informants, committing various and sundry crimes (including murder) along the way, or they simply feel they are ‘above the law’ during their participation in an operation.
The worst case of this may have been in the US, notorious federal informant, Glen Rogers, was allowed to carry out crimes while protected under his informant status.
According to Truth in Media Blog, Monis himself seemed to be confused about his radical status:
“Earlier this month, Monis announced via his website he used to be a Rafidi, one who rejects legitimate Islamic authority and leadership, but “now I am a Muslim” (see “Radical self-styled sheik Man Haron Monis was on bail at time of siege” (see CH9 News).”
In public and on his website, sheikhharon.com, Monis has long claimed that all the charges against him, particularly those for his letter writing harassment against Veterans’ families – were all politically motivated. The end result of Haron’s previous media antics were political however, just like the Lindt cafe siege, they also helped to sway conservative and right-wing public opinion against Muslims and for overseas wars.
Now that Haron is dead, we may never know the full story, nor will we know the full extent of his relationship with the security services.
Timing of the Sydney Event
The timing of the ‘Sydney Siege’ is certainly interesting. It took place just 7 days after the controversial release of the US Senate’s ‘Torture Report’. In addition to the two public relations outcomes – hardened public opinion against Muslims in Australia and support of military action in theatres like Afghanistan, the narrative of the event would also shift world opinion towards being in favour of using torture in order to ‘keep us safe’. This is exactly how the debate was played out in the media over the last 48 hours and now the ‘Sydney Siege’ has been added to the list of high profile al Qaeda and ISIS events, even though Monis has no real affiliation with any real international terror organization.
In a grandstanding moment that would make even Tony Blair blush, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot tried to take advantage of the moment by over-selling the event as a ‘pivotal moment’. Abbot announced Wednesday that, “Tens if not hundreds of millions of people right around the world have been focused on the city of Sydney which has been touched by terrorism for the first time in more than 35 years.”
He added, “This is an incident which has echoed around the world.”
Meanwhile, most US media outlets were already reporting the chocolate shop siege as an ‘ISIS-related attack’, including the Washington Post, carried on the fear mongering:
“The long showdown riveted the world’s attention and raised questions over the possibility of another so-called “lone wolf” attack inspired by militants such as the Islamic State.”
The term ‘lone wolf’ seems to be the media’s favourite moniker of the terrorist threat this year. It’s largely an American invention, derived film and television, and based around the popular plot line that somehow and against all odds, a single crazed antagonist can bring a nation or the world to its knees through a single act of terrorism.
“The terrifying tag ‘lone wolf’ gives the impression that individuals, anyone with a Koran and a gun, can hold the West to ransom; but they can’t. They can invade coffee shops and, worse, plant bombs on trains and buses, but they cannot unleash any kind of serious instability. They can harm individuals, which is terrible, but they cannot harm society. Unless, that is, we allow them to,” says Spiked editor Brendan O’Neil.
Most mainstream pro-war (and pro-CIA torture) media outlets certainly tried very hard to characterize the Sydney chocolate shop siege as an ‘ISIS terrorist attack’. One in the media’s endless line-up of “national security experts” included ‘ex-FBI agent’ Don Borelli who told TODAY that the suspect appeared to be “inspired by ISIS”.
FOX News spokesmodel Andrea Tantaros even protested on air demanding that Australian authorities classify the Sydney incident as an international “terrorist attack”, and repeatedly referenced ‘ISIS’ when describing the event.
In what looks like a media ‘perfect storm’, 24 hours after the chocolate shop siege, rogue Taliban gunmen killed at least 141 students and teachers in Pakistan, apparently in retaliation for new government policies on homegrown Islamist militants there. Like with the Sydney event, US media are seizing on the school massacre as yet more justification for using torture to extract intelligence.
Martin Place ‘Terror Drill’ followed by ‘Operation Hammerhead’
As it turns out, only 12 months earlier, Australian security services ran a domestic terror drill next to the very same location at Martin Place. The drill included dozens of fully equipped Australian Defence Force counter terrorism soldiers, who carried out a”mock terror drill”.
According to the Sydney Telegraph, officers could be seen with, “… rifles drawn, faces covered in balaclavas and gas masks, and night vision goggles perched on their helmets, about 50 camouflaged soldiers fanned out through Martin Place in near-perfect silence in search of mock terrorists that had overtaken the underground Martin Place train station.”Many are not aware that Martin Place also houses the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Bank, “police officers and an ambulance watched on, soldiers headed for the atrium at the centre of the pedestrian mall beside the old Commonwealth Bank building and hauled their tactical equipment over a glass barrier and descended the steps to the MLC food court.”
During the drill, Occupy protesters were on hand to give the media the perfect soundbites in response to the military theatrics. Occupy protester “Lance” stated in national media at the time:
“Notice how they didn’t shut the area down; it’s good that they’re getting the public used to this stuff.”
A better boiling frogs line you could not find.
“The terror threat “is not going to be solved overnight” Premier Mike Baird warned on Friday as Sydney awoke the day after an alleged beheading plot was revealed. Mr Baird urged the public to be patient as he announced the increased security measures, dubbed Operation Hammerhead. The operation has placed more than 220 police on the beat at transport hubs, popular venues and busy public areas mainly in the Sydney city area, following the largest counter-terrorism operation in Australian history.”
Botched Police Raid or Heroic Tale?
Five people initially escaped as police descended upon the venue, followed by the reminder of living hostages exiting after gun fire was allegedly exchanged between the assailant Monis and police. The raid left two hostages dead, Lindt manager, Tori Johnson, 34, and barrister Katrina Dawson, 38, along with gunman Man Haron Monis.
The outcome of the siege first focused on whether or not the hostages were killed by the gunman Monis, or if indeed, they had died at the hands of police during cross-fire. Initial worries were that the two hostages were shot by hair-trigger police, but that story quickly changed to a heroic but tragic last effort and struggle with Monis. Australian officials maintain that cafe manager Johnson, was shot after he tried to wrestle the gun from the gunman. Hence, government officials have avoided any heavy criticism or embarrassment over what could have been a botched rescue operation.
Regardless of who shot whom, the event was certainly a tragedy for anyone who lost their lives and their families, and the whole nation of Australia is officially in mourning this week. After the dust settles, that mourning will almost certainly be transformed by right-wing forces into more aggressive government policies towards the ‘threat of terrorism’ and operations overseas.
Putting all of the US reactionary language, exaggeration and hyperbole aside, however, to suggest that Man Haron Monis threatened Australia’s national security is a near joke.
Brendan O’Neil explains it best, “Monis was certainly a threat to the people in the cafe, but he posed no threat to Australia or its national security or democracy. Even to describe his actions as the ‘Sydney siege’, as if he had the whole city under his command, is to imbue his erratic behaviour with way too much menace and meaning; he should be known as the Lindt loser, the chocolate-shop gunman.”
Still, that will not stop Tony Abbot and government officials from using the legend of Monis to enact new policies in the War on Terror.