Sydney hostage-taker called himself a cleric -- and had a criminal record

Willie Grace | 12/16/2014, 3:43 p.m. | Updated on 12/16/2014, 3:43 p.m.
Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born refugee who was granted political asylum in Australia in 2001, had "a long history of ...
Gunfire erupted early Tuesday as police stormed the cafe where the gunman had been holding hostages.

(CNN) -- The gunman who held hostages for more than 16 hours in a Sydney cafe was no stranger to police -- and was on bail for violent criminal offenses at the time of the siege.

Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born refugee who was granted political asylum in Australia in 2001, had "a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.

"It's pretty obvious that the perpetrator was a deeply disturbed individual," he said at a press conference Tuesday, adding that the 50-year-old was "well known" to federal and state police, as well as the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

"But I don't believe he was on a terror watch list at this time."

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said authorities were investigating why Monis -- who was killed in the siege -- was at large, given his criminal background.

"We're all outraged that this guy was on the street," he told reporters. "We need to understand why he was. We also need to understand why he wasn't picked up."

Accessory to murder, sex charges

The self-styled Muslim cleric, also known as Sheikh Haron, was facing dozens of charges at the time of the siege, including two counts of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, according to the Attorney General of New South Wales.

Noleen Hayson Pal was found dead with multiple stab wounds in a stairwell, and her body had been set on fire, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"They should have put him away and thrown away the key," the dead woman's godfather, Ayyut Khalik, told NBC News. He said Monis used to beat Pal, forcing her to wear a hijab all the time and forbidding her from talking to "outsiders."

Court documents show Monis was also facing 45 sex-related charges, including sexual intercourse without consent and aggravated indecent assault.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the initial charges, laid in May 2014, related to an alleged sexual assault on a woman in western Sydney in 2002, before other sex-related charges were added regarding six additional victims.

Monis was using the name Mohammad Hassan Manteghi -- his birth name, according to Iran's state news agency IRNA -- and claimed to be a "healer," according to the report.

Monis also pleaded guilty last year to writing offensive "poison pen" letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, and was sentenced to 300 hours of community service. The letters were "sadistic, wantonly cruel and deeply wounding," one High Court judge said at the time, according to CNN affiliate Seven News.

But the criminal accusations against him began even before he came to Australia.

Monis fled his homeland in 1995 while being sought for allegedly committing fraud, Iran's semi-official Fars News reported.

A spokesperson at Iran's embassy in Canberra told CNN that Tehran had officially requested Monis's extradition but nothing had come of it. Monis had been granted political asylum in 2001 and had had no further contact with his birth country, the spokesperson said.