(Thumbnail via Zennie Abraham on Flickr.)
The self-styled Muslim cleric at the center of the Sydney siege is eccentric and extreme, but apparently not affiliated with ISIS, according to multiple Australian outlets.
Mon Haron Monis, also known by the aliases “Sheikh Haron” and Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, is an Iranian-born Australian citizen and a convert from Shiite to Sunni Islam. He has an extensive police record of sexual assault, and has attracted controversy for writing hateful letters to Australian military veterans.
Images of a black flag with the Muslim profession of faith – “there is no God but God, and Muhammad is God’s prophet” — raised initial confusion, since similar flags are used by the Islamic State terror group and other jihadists. But Monis’ record of unusual behavior, and his claims of expertise in “astrology, numerology and black magic,” made him unlikely to be part of an ISIS sleeper cell.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in October that Monis was charged with over 40 charges of sexual assault, with many of the incidents taking place while he worked as a freelance “spiritual healer.”
Soon after news broke of the hostage situation, reports came of women in Muslim religious garb being harassed on public transit. This led to a solidarity hashtag on Twitter, “#illridewithyou,” to identify those willing to share public spaces with Muslims, and protect them against profiling and harassment if necessary.
With Monis being widely described as an “Iranian refugee,” who has lived in Australia since 1996, it is also unlikely that he had any connection with that country’s regime. Nevertheless, many reactions on social media were quick to attribute his violence to everything from his Iranian national origin, to his Muslim religion, to his status as an immigrant.
According to 2011 data from the Pew Research Center, Australia’s population is 1.9 percent Muslim — over twice the rate of Muslims in the United States, where they only make up 0.8 percent of the country.
As of publication, there were unconfirmed rumors that Monis had been shot and killed by Australian police.
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