26 May 2017





After an 18-month inquiry into the 2014 Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney's Martin Place, the state coroner has handed a report placing responsibility for the siege solely on gunman Man Haron Monis, described as a "vicious maniac [with a] severe personality disorder".

NSW Coroner Michael Barnes also delivered findings relating to events leading up to the siege that should raise serious questions about our capacity to prevent similar attacks.

Leaving aside Mr Barnes' findings in relation to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions allowing Monis to be released on bail, there are several other oversights that highlight a dearth of expertise and knowledge across agencies and government departments charged with our safety.

In the wake of the devastating Manchester attack this week, again investigations reveal the perpetrator was known to law enforcement agencies. This is becoming a common trend. So too, Monis was known to the Australian Federal Police, ASIO and NSW Police.

His repeated calls to ASIO earned him a reputation as a serial pest but should have been considered an indicator of his fixation. His Facebook page pledging allegiance to ISIS sparked 18 calls to the National Security Hotline, but ASIO analysis failed to recognise the seriousness of the threat he posed.

In 2015 I led a project to develop a behavioural profile to assist in the early detection of terrorist actors by analysing their online behaviours. Monis' behaviour in the lead-up to the siege is consistent with the warning behaviours that indicate a serious threat.

The project identified three primary warning behaviours that indicate serious threat:

Fixation: a pathological preoccupation with a person or cause; Identification: a warrior mentality that includes narcissistic fantasies; Leakage: communication either to a third party or to the public (such as on a Facebook page) of intent to commit violence.

Monis' obsession with ASIO and sending letters to the families of fallen Australian soldiers should not have been dismissed as nuisance behaviours – they were clearly warning signs of fixative behaviour.

His Facebook rantings that sparked 18 calls to the hotline should have been correctly assessed as leakage behaviour by people with the expertise, knowledge and understanding of radicalisation. The coroner stated that, "while Monis' public Facebook page did contain confronting and provocative content, there was nothing indicative of a desire or intent to undertake an act of politically-motivated violence nor suggestive of a capability to do so". Taken out of context that may be so, but coupled with his fixation, self-identification, violent history and a pattern of behaviour in the weeks leading up to the siege, I would argue they provide a clear indicator of the seriousness of the threat he posed.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of the impending threat posed by Monis is the letter he sent to Attorney-General George Brandis, asking about the legality of Monis engaging with ISIS leadership.

Responding to questions in Senate estimates in 2015, Senator Brandis said of the letter that it did not "apparently contain any endorsement or indication of favourability towards Islamic State". The letter was treated as benign despite Monis writing, "I would like to send a letter to Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State, in which making some comments and asking some questions [sic]". It should have been treated with the gravity it deserved, and would have if the right people, with the right expertise had been called in.

There is a serious and urgent need to develop our capacity for early intervention in Australia. This is abundantly evident when we look at the plethora of missed opportunities to intervene before Monis had the chance to carry out his violence. Opportunities that should have and could have been detected given the right knowledge, understanding, experience and expertise.

The psychiatrist used by police consistently failed to correctly assess the threat to lives of the hostages. The inquest revealed the psychiatrist had no specialised counter-terrorism experience or knowledge of ISIS. He or she had no expert knowledge of violent extremism as a specific brand of violence or the particular behaviours that are associated with it or the changing trends in the profiles of violent extremist actors.

If there is anything to be learned from the events of the past week: the horrific attacks in Manchester and the findings of a long and often harrowing inquest into the Lindt Siege, it is that we need to be better prepared for similar attacks here in Australia. And we can't do that without the right level and mix of expertise. We cannot rely solely on responsive measures during an attack.

Anne Aly is the federal Labor member for Cowan, and an internationally renowned counter-terrorism expert.


This piece was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, 26 May 2017.