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Sydney siege declared terrorist act for insurance claims

[SYDNEY] A fatal Sydney cafe siege last month was Thursday officially declared a terrorist incident by the government so businesses can make insurance claims.

Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis, who had a history of extremism and violence, took 17 hostages in the city's financial heartland in December, unveiling an Islamic flag.

He was killed as armed police stormed the eatery after 16 hours.

Two hostages also died - mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, and 34-year-old Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson - while several were injured, sparking an outpouring of national grief.

"I have today declared the siege a terrorist incident for the purposes of the Terrorism Insurance Act," Treasurer Joe Hockey said.

"The government has taken this action to ensure businesses that suffered damages from the incident will not be denied claims due to terrorism exclusions in their insurance policies." The siege saw many shops and offices shut their doors, sending workers home.

Hockey's move means insurers will be prevented from refusing claims from affected businesses on the basis that their policies exclude losses from acts of terrorism - a provision of the Terrorism Insurance Act.

In the aftermath of the siege, Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned of heightened "terrorist chatter" although until now the government had not officially branded the hostage-taking a terrorist attack.

A coronial inquest into the deaths, which will examine every detail of the siege, is due to open on January 29 in a bid to find out exactly what happened.

A review into the incident is currently being conducted by the Australian and New South Wales state governments, which Hockey said "will tell us what lessons can be learned from the events leading up to and surrounding the siege".

"At the same time, our law enforcement and security agencies continue their work to prevent and disrupt any individuals who may seek to do us harm," he added.

Monis, a self-styled Islamic cleric, was on bail at the time for various charges, including sexual offences and abetting the murder of his ex-wife.

Australia raised its threat level to high in September when it carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids across Sydney and Brisbane following a flow of its nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with Islamic State and other jihadist groups.

Late last month, a man was charged with possessing documents connected to a planned terrorist attack on government targets in Sydney, although police insisted people should not be afraid.