Shortly after 2 a.m. Sydney time, a number of hostages escaped the Lindt Chocolat café. Shots were then fired and Australian SWAT members — probably including Tactical Assault Group/East — stormed in and confronted Man Haron Monis. It appears the raid was “immediate action,” or unplanned, rather than deliberate. Regardless, the raid commander obviously feared that Monis was about to execute the remaining hostages. While the raid demonstrates the great skill of the rescuers, in the bloody battle that ended Monis’s pathetic life, at least two hostages also died.
It’s early in the investigation, but we can make some preliminary observations. First off, on Monis: An Iranian refugee who became an Australian criminal with a long rap sheet, Monis in recent years had proclaimed himself a sheikh. Before it was taken offline, I was able to view his website. Here, alongside photos of dead children, Monis gave some indication of his beliefs. Of particular note, was his use of Takfiri terminology. Describing himself as former “Rafidah” (a derogatory term for Shia Muslims) who had found true Islam, Monis hinted at his sympathy for Islamic State ideology. After all, Rafidah-framed hatred is central to the ideology of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.
This comports with Monis’s activities during the siege. In addition to forcing hostages to push a black, Islamic-creed-adorned flag against the store window, Monis made other hostages record his demands, which included an IS flag and a phone call with the Australian prime minister. He was also photographed wearing an Islamist headband.
It would be a mistake to rule this event as the tragedy of one deluded man. Instead, this is a warning to the West. As I noted in September, Australia’s terrorist threat is framed by the operational synergy between Islamic State officers in the Middle East and supporters in Australia. But with the Islamic State increasingly using Western recruits to issue video-propaganda calls for other Westerners to join its cause, any malcontent with access to weapons — whether he is a religious fanatic or a psychopath — can now find “purpose” in jihadism. This dynamic is intensified by two additional factors: Western Islamic State fighters are now returning home from Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaeda-aligned individuals outside of the Islamic State constitute an ongoing threat. While predictable (I wrote about this concern in May), the increasing diversity of the jihadist threat is a major problem for intelligence services. They lack the resources to effectively monitor all those who pose a threat. Some will fall through the cracks.
Nevertheless, we can and should do a number of things to better meet this threat. First, we should get serious about defeating the Islamic State. Second, we should institute much tougher penalties — including treason charges — for those who would wage war on their home nations. Third, while standing against bigots who would spread terror against law-abiding Muslims, we should empower Muslim leaders to wage a war of ideas against the Islamic State’s ideology and the rot within political Islam that it represents.