The man who is still holding hostages in the Lindt cafe in Sydney has been identified as an Iranian cleric with a history of brushes with the law since arriving to Australia as a refugee in 1996.
Islamic accounts on Twitter identified the headband worn by the terrorist as saying “Labbayk ya Muhammad,” or “at your service, Muhammad,” leading many to believe he’s Shiite. He carried a Shahada flag.
Multiple Australian media outlets have identified the gunman as Sheikh Man Haron Monis, who went to court over sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. It became a freedom-of-speech debate in the country’s High Court.
Earlier this year, he was charged as an accessory in the stabbing and burning death of his ex-wife, but released on bail. “Man Monis then stood outside the court wearing chains and holding a sign claiming he has been tortured in custody,” reported the ABC. In the spring, he was charged with sexual assault while acting as a “spiritual healer.”
Haron began the siege with a pump-action shotgun at 9:45 a.m. Sydney time. Three men and two women managed to escape in the hours left, leaving about 15 hostages left.
He has demanded a live, on-the-air phone call with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and has also said he’ll release one hostage in exchange for an ISIS flag.
“I used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah,” Haron announced on his website in a message marked December 2014.
In a message dated Dec. 14, the day he took the hostages, Haron wrote, “Islam is the religion of peace, that’s why Muslims fight against the oppression and terrorism of USA and its allies including UK and Australia. If we stay silent towards the criminals we cannot have a peaceful society. The more you fight with crime, the more peaceful you are. Islam wants peace on the Earth, that’s why Muslims want to stop terrorism of America and its allies. When you speak out against crime you have taken one step towards peace.”