Opinion: Sydney Siege: Why Didn’t the Snipers Shoot?

The Sydney siege at the Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place ended in the early hours of Dec. 15 with 3 fatalities and 3 injured. But why did it have to conclude with any fatalities besides that of the gunman?

It is now known that it was Man Haron Monis, an apparently-deranged gunman called by a newspaper columnist a “fake sheik, a pretend spiritual healer and a wannabe terrorist” who took over the café. Police negotiated with him for 16 hours before they were forced by gunfire inside the café to storm the building, an action in which two hostages died.

But what’s wrong with these pictures and video (watch from 2:06 onwards)?


Photo credit: 7 News


Picture: Ross Schultz Source: News Corp Australia

Why didn’t they have the snipers to take him down at some earlier point with the 16-hour time frame?

(Snipers reportedly manned nearby rooftops and shouted “Hostage down, window two” only when tactical police stormed the café at the end of the siege.)

If the media had these clear shots of the gunman, the authorities should at least get for themselves the same clear view. Why didn’t they have the snipers to take him down at some earlier point within the 16 hour period? If the snipers weren’t in a better position than the media, surely they had enough time to move for a better vantage point, from the rooftop or on the ground? The snipers of course need clearance from their commanders who should be on site with their squads. So does that mean the authorities did not want to kill him for whatever reason?

Certainly many complicated questions but in any case, there were 17 hostages at stake and the police didn't move in for the kill until negotiations apparently failed and there were gunshots within the café?

I have only one potential explanation: the authorities were concerned with the hostage-taker’s claims that there were other explosive devices planted around the city – and the police have intelligence that he has comrades who would trigger those devices if he’s dead (I know it’s easier said than done but with good use of negotiators and intelligence, and a good 16 hours to work within, the police and intelligence agencies could have established if he had other accomplices to detonate those devices, if any. Also it is not that Man Haron Monis was any stranger to the Australian authorities. They should have had an extensive file on him all along.

Anything short of that (and as it turned out, his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, reportedly told the media that Monis was an isolated figure who had acted alone), it’s sad to see yet another case whereby the authorities didn't follow protocol in hostage situations: Take the man down at the very first opportunity.

The New York City Police Protocol on Active Shooters, for instance, advocates “making contact with the suspect(s) to end the threat,” a reference to incidents in which initial responders waited for backup. Police, according to the protocol, waited for six minutes for reinforcements before entering the Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Jersey in the US where the youth Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six faculty members. That six minutes would have been crucial in saving the lives of innocent children.

The Lindt Café situation is also reminiscent of the Manila hostage event of Aug. 23, when the hostage taker, former Philippines police officer Rolando Mendoza, hijacked a tourist bus with 25 hostages from Hong Kong aboard. He was in plain sight (see picture below) several times, more than sufficient for the snipers to decide where to aim. But the Philippines authorities missed the opportunities to get him, resulting in nine deaths (including that of the perpetrator) and sparked a long diplomatic wrangle with Hong Kong, in which politicians in the city demanded an apology and tourism to the Philippines was disrupted for months.


Vanson Soo is a Hong Kong-based consultant specializing in risk migitation. His Shhh-cretly blog appears on the bottom right corner of Asia Sentinel’s homepage.