Sydney Hostage Taker Man Haron Monis: Lone Wolf Terrorist, Or Lone Nut? Does It Matter?
Was Man Haron Monis a terrorist, or just a lone nut who had latched on to the rhetoric of ISIS to justify his own delusions? In the end, it hardly matters.
As I noted in an update to yesterday’s post about the hostage standoff in downtown Sydney, Australia, the hostage situation yesterday ended yesterday with a police raid that freed the vast majority of the hostages but, tragically, led to the death of two of the hostages along with the Iranian-born gunman who had initiated the sixteen hour siege. As police in Australian police continue their investigation, though, and law enforcement elsewhere prepares for potential copycat attacks while also searching for intelligence linking the gunman to outside forces, it remains unclear if the man responsible for the attacks was a lone wolf terrorist, or just a lone nut who latched on to ISIS to justify in his own mind to justify what has seemed lie a lifetime of violence and criminal acts:
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.
At the moment, it does not appear that there were any real connections between Monis and any active terrorist organizations outside Australia, or any known terror cells inside the country either for that matter. To the extent that there are terror connections, then, they would seem to be more inspirational than anything else. Indeed, given Monis’s previous criminal history it seems likely that this is a guy susceptible to all sorts of apocalyptic death cult and that, to some extent, he may have latched on to fundamentalist/jihadist Islam as the a convenient crutch for whatever else it is that may actually be bothering him. At the very least, it seems rather obvious that his decision to take hostages at the cafe itself wasn’t very well thought through. True, he had access to weapons, which is no small feat in Australia where private gun ownership is virtually unheard of after the gun control laws enacted in recent years, but to the extent that he considered this a “terror” attack in the name of ISIS, he couldn’t even manage to bring an actual ISIS flag with him to the cafe and made obtaining such a flag one of his demands for releasing one of the hostages. Instead, he had a black flag with Arabic writing on it that apparently doesn’t even have any particularly jihadist meaning.
All of this brings up the legitimate question of what it means to say that something is “linked to terrorism” or a “terrorist” attack, a question that Steven Taylor asked in partial response to the post title I had chosen for my post about the hostage situation yesterday. As I noted in a comment to the post, it is a legitimate question, and I suppose that the answer I gave at the time is the best one for why I chose those particular words remains the best one available. In an era where we have seen several apparent “lone wolf” attacks by people who at least appear to have been inspired by rhetoric from ISIS or other organizations, such as the murder of the Canadian solider in Quebec, the attack on the Canadian Parliament and War Memorial, and a machete attack on a New York City Police Officer that occurred just days later, to be becoming more common. To that list we can add, arguably, the Boston Marathon bombing which does not appear to have had any foreign involvement at all. While it is true that none of these attacks were part of an organized terrorist campaign in the manner of the September 11th attacks, it seems foolish to ignore the fact that the people perpetrating these attacks are at least inspired by foreign based terrorism, especially since these kind of pin-prick lone wolf attacks are much harder to detect in advance and, due to the level of anxiety they could create if they started happening frequently, are quite capable of raising the level of public concern and fear to levels just as a high as it was after 9/11. Who would’ve expected an Islamist style attack in a chocolate cafe in Sydney, for example, or even in Ottawa at the War Memorial? A world where something like this becomes more common could be quite unpleasant in many respects, not the least of them being the impact it would have on the ever growing security state and our ever shrinking sense of personal liberty in public. In the end, then, it doesn’t matter if Man Haron Monis was a lone wolf terrorist intent on scoring a victory for ISIS or a lone nut who had latched on to Islamism for his own deluded reasons, the damage he did was the same in the end.