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Sydney siege gunman prone to grandiose claims: inquest

[SYDNEY] The Iranian-born gunman behind last year's deadly siege in an Australian café was secretive and prone to grandiose claims but was even shunned by a motorcycle gang which found him "weird", an inquest heard Monday.

The 17-hour standoff in Sydney's central business district in December, which ended with the deaths of two hostages along with gunman Man Haron Monis, shocked the country and sparked fears about national security.

At the reopening of the inquest, which began in January and is being held amid high security, New South Wales state coroner Michael Barnes said he would look deeply into the background of the former religious scholar and self-styled cleric.

He said the "despicable actions of Mr Monis", who took more than a dozen people hostage at the Lindt cafe in Martin Place, required special investigation because they raised questions of national significance.

"Was Monis a so-called lone wolf prosecuting an ISIS-inspired terrorist act, or was he a deranged individual pursuing some personal private grievance in a public manner?" he asked, referring to the Islamic State group.

The detailed inquest would examine whether Monis could have been deported, detained or stopped and whether the siege could have been ended without the loss of lives, Barnes added.

Cafe manager Tori Johnson and barrister Katrina Dawson died when heavily-armed police stormed the building and shot Monis dead.

Mr Johnson was shot dead by Monis at point-blank range while mother-of-three Ms Dawson was hit by a ricocheting bullet as police moved in.

The incident sparked an outpouring of grief in Sydney with a huge makeshift memorial of flowers near the scene. The cafe reopened in March with simple gold plaques remembering the pair.

The inquest was told that Mr Monis was born into modest circumstances in Iran, but was well-educated and after his marriage had lived in relative luxury in the capital Tehran.

While his level of education could have led to a government job - and he boasted of high-level contacts - there was no evidence he had taken this path, said counsel assisting the coroner Jeremy Gormly.

"As we'll see, Mr Monis was prone to grandiose claims, but it seems that there may have been some kernel of truth in his background," Mr Gormly said.

The reasons why Mr Monis quit Iran, arriving in Australia in 1996, are unknown. Making his case for asylum, he claimed that a book of his poetry had made him a target for persecution in Iran, and that he had spied for that country's secret police.

"He was secretive in many respects... yet he kept records dating back many years," Gormly said, adding that Mr Monis had lodged tax returns, reported changes of address and name and even filled out a form for police on staging a protest.

Mr Monis struggled to find a place in Australia, working as a carpet salesman and security guard, before setting himself up as a clairvoyant offering spiritual healing.

By 2014 his constant reinventions - including his attempt to join a motorcycle gang whose members found him "strange and weird" - had failed to pay off and his mental health was deteriorating.

"His attempt to develop a personal religious following...had failed. Indeed the Islamic community in Australia did not accept him," Mr Gormly said.

"He had few friends and no standing with any group or institution. His attempts to join other groups, even the bikies who tolerated him for a short period, failed." Mr Gormly said that whether or not Mr Monis expected to survive the events of December 15 and 16 was not known, adding: "Reality for him, may not have hit home until many hours into the siege." The inquest is being conducted across numerous sessions throughout the year with an outcome not expected until 2016.