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innocence lost

On Monday 15 of December 2014, barrister and mother of 3 Katrina Dawson walked in to the Lindt café in Sydney’s Martin Place for her morning coffee with pregnant colleague and fellow barrister Julie Taylor. They had no idea that moments later, their lives and the lives of 15 other Lindt customers and staff would be forever changed.

As channel seven broadcast their live Sunrise program across the mall, a bearded 50 year old man entered through the café’s sliding glass doors. He was wearing a bandanna and carrying a blue bag containing a shotgun. The man was Man Haron Monis.

A woman trying to enter the café shortly after Monis found the glass door disabled and noticed patrons inside being ordered on to the floor. Believing she was witnessing an armed robbery she called police.

About a minute later a staff member arriving for work found he also could not enter through the main door and watched what was happening through the glass. He too believed his fellow Lindt workers and customers were being held up.

As police arrived, the faces of 17 terrified hostages appeared in the café windows. They were told to stand with their hands on the glass and their eyes closed. Some were forced to hold black flags against the windows. As Australia watched live on Sunrise, the flags came in to focus and a collective gasp rang out across the country. We’ve seen flags like this before. In that moment we thought, this is not an armed robbery. Australia, Sydney, is under terrorist attack.lindt

In the days following we would learn that Man Haron Monis was no terrorist. He was a man seeking fame and the attention of those he idolised. He was not acting as part of a political attack on Australia. He was not a soldier of the Islamic State. He was a desperate mad man wanting to make a name for himself and be a hero in a war he had never lifted arms for.

Man Haron Monis was a refugee who fled from Iran to the safety of Australia in 1996, claiming he was persecuted for his liberal take on Islam. In the years that followed he became a self-proclaimed spiritual healer and a self-anointed sheikh with no authority or standing in the Australian Muslim community. He was convicted of harassing the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and an Austrade official who died in the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta and at the time of the Lindt siege was on bail for his alleged complicity in the murder of his former wife.

Monis identified himself to his hostages as The Brother, and as police began evacuating Martin Place and the surrounding area, he began outlining his demands to them. It was only when messages and videos began appearing on social media that we began to understand what the faces in those windows were enduring inside the café.

Marcia Mikhael, a project manager and mother of three from Sydney’s north-west was forced to post to her Facebook page. “He is now threatening to start killing us,” Ms Mikhael wrote. “We need help right now. The man wants the world to know that Australia is under attack by the Islamic State.”

At 4:35pm, hope. Two male hostages made a break for freedom from the main door, followed by a male Lindt employee through a fire escape. Just before 5pm two female employees also escaped. Could this be the gun man relenting and letting hostages go? No.

Inside the café, Monis was now infuriated. He instructed hostage, 19 year old Jarrod Hoffman, to call radio 2GB and The Daily Telegraph to relay his demands: a direct line with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and an Islamic flag delivered to the café.

“He says an eye for an eye,” Mr Hoffman said. “If someone else runs, someone dies.”

None of Monis’s demands were met. However he persevered, instructing hostages Selina Win Pe and Julie Taylor to post videos shot on a smart phone to social media outlining his demands again. Other videos were also uploaded, with no result.

The demands would never be met.

By 2am Monis was tired. It had been 16 hours since the siege began. The hostages saw their only chance and ran for the exit. Monis woke. Tori Johnson, the café manager, attempted to wrestle the gun from him and Monis shot him dead. Reports also suggest that Mr Johnson was badly beaten before being shot.

At 2:03am six hostages fled through a service door. They included Harriette Denny, Jarrod Hoffman and software engineer Viswakanth Ankireddy, a 32-year-old from India who is living in Sydney with his wife and young daughter and working on a Westpac project.

Outside, police had heard shots and a sniper in the channel seven building had seen Mr Johnson go down, reports said. Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione later said that police now had to storm the café to stop more casualties.

At approximately 2:10am police shot out the glass doors and entered the café in a hail of bullets and flashes of light.

In those final, terrifying moments, they killed Monis. Barrister and mother, Katrina Dawson, who 16 hours earlier had entered the café for her morning coffee, was also killed in the firefight. Reports suggest she was protecting her pregnant friend Julie Taylor. Police believe it was Monis’s bullet that killed her.

Injured in those final seconds were Marcia Mikhael, shot in the leg, a 75-year-old woman shot in the shoulder, a 52-year-old woman who was shot in the foot, and a 39-year-old policeman whose face was sprayed with pellets.

Fifteen hostages were alive, but Ms Dawson and Mr Johnson became the victims of Man Haron Monis, a delusional lone wolf who wanted the world to believe he was an Islamic State warrior when he was nothing more than a wannabe terrorist and coward.

Nobody believed in him. No one thought he was a threat. But he was dangerous and, for over 16 hours, he held a nation hostage and stole our innocence forever.


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