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    Inquest hears of Sydney siege deaths

    syThe start of an inquest into the Sydney cafe siege has heard that hostage Katrina Dawson was killed by fragments from a police bullet or bullets.

    The inquest heard that another hostage, Tori Johnson, was killed by a bullet to the head from gunman Man Haron Monis.

    That prompted police to raid the Lindt Chocolate Cafe, ending the siege but leaving Ms Dawson and Monis dead.

    The inquest is seeking to establish exactly how the three died and whether their deaths could have been avoided.

    The hearing will also examine whether it was appropriate to treat the siege as a terrorist event and whether the crisis could have been managed better.

    Monis took 18 people hostage at the cafe in Martin Place in Sydney’s business district on 15 December, leading to a massive police operation and the shutdown of a large part of the city centre.

    Police at scene of siegeThe police entered the cafe after one of the hostages was shot dead, the inquest heard

    At the opening of the coronial inquest in Sydney, Jeremy Gormly, the lawyer assisting the state coroner, said Ms Dawson was “struck by six fragments of a police bullet or bullets which ricocheted from hard surfaces into her body”.

    “I will not detail the damage done to Ms Dawson other than to say that one fragment struck a major blood vessel. She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards.”

    Australian media reports earlier this month had indicated that Ms Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister and mother of three young children, had died after being hit in the heart and shoulder by fragments from a police bullet.

    Bomb claim

    The inquest heard that Monis entered the cafe on the morning of 15 December with a sawn-off shotgun hidden in a plastic bag.

    He ordered chocolate cake and tea, and asked to speak to the manager, Mr Johnson. After ordering Mr Johnson to lock the cafe, he announced: “This is an attack. I have a bomb.”

    Katrina DawsonKatrina Dawson was having coffee in the cafe with a friend when the gunman entered

    Later that morning, Monis ordered Mr Johnson to phone Australia’s emergency number. He ordered the cafe manager to say that Australia was under attack from Islamic State militants.

    Mr Johnson was also ordered to say that Monis had planted radio-controlled bombs around the busy Sydney tourist precinct, Circular Quay, and Martin Place – none of which was true.

    A number of hostages managed to escape as the siege went on, then at 02:00 local time on 16 December, special police stormed the cafe after a police marksman saw Monis shoot the kneeling Mr Johnson in the back of the head.

    Earlier unconfirmed reports in the Australian press had said Mr Johnson was shot while trying to disarm Monis, but this was not mentioned by the coronial report.

    The inquest heard that Monis was killed instantly when police entered the cafe. At least two police bullets hit him in the head and 11 other bullets or fragments struck his body. The police used stun grenades, known as flash bangs, as they went in.

    Man Haron Monis after a court appearance in Sydney, 18 April 2011Man Haron Monis was facing a range of criminal charges at the time of the siege

    Monis fired five shots during the entire siege, the inquest heard.

    The first shot was directed at hostages as they fled the scene. He then shot Mr Johnson. The other bullets were fired when police stormed the cafe. Monis was later found to have had 21 more cartridges in his pocket.

    ‘Horrifying events’

    Monis, who came to Australia as a refugee from Iran, had a history of religious activism and was on bail at the time of the siege for dozens of sexual assault charges and for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

    He claimed to be a cleric and asked his hostages to display an Islamic flag during the siege. However, questions remain about whether he had any links to international militant networks.

    His partner Amirah Droudis, who is also facing murder charges over his ex-wife, will be represented at the inquest.

    Evacuation in Sydney during siegePeople were evacuated from buildings nearby as the siege brought parts of central Sydney to a standstill

    “Rarely have such horrifying events unfolded so publicly,” New South Wales coroner Michael Barnes told the court. “These events have precipitated an outpouring of emotion, anguish, anger, resentment and despair.”

    Outside court, one of the surviving hostages, 82-year-old John O’Brien said: “It’s been very upsetting for Tori Johnson’s family.”

    Six of Mr Johnson’s family members attended the session. None of Ms Dawson’s family were present.

    The inquest has now adjourned. A date has yet to be announced for the next hearing. All the surviving hostages are expected to give evidence.

    Meanwhile other investigations into the siege are continuing, including a joint federal and New South Wales state government review of why Monis was given asylum and eventually citizenship in Australia and why he was granted bail in 2013.

    (Courtesy – BBC)

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