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Aussie leader rues handling of siege gunman

Kristen Gelineau Associated Press

SYDNEY – A gunman responsible for a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe was once on the national security agency’s watch list – but was dropped for reasons that remain unclear, Australia’s prime minister said today.

Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as deeply disturbed, took 17 people hostage inside a downtown Sydney cafe on Monday. Sixteen hours later, the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in to free the captives. Two hostages were killed along with Monis.

Abbott said today that Monis was on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watch list in 2008 and 2009 but later was dropped. The agency was watching Monis because he had sent offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, Abbott said.

“I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t,” Abbott told reporters.

Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to 300 hours of community service for sending what a judge called “grossly offensive” letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. He later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the 2002 sexual assault of a woman. He had been out on bail.

Abbott also confirmed Monis, who wielded a shotgun, had a gun license.

Just three days before Monis began his deadly rampage, Australia’s highest court refused to hear his appeal against his convictions for sending the letters.

New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said police had asked that Monis not be granted bail, but the court ruled otherwise.

Asked why Monis was not on any watch list, Scipione noted that the charges Monis faced were not politically motivated.

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