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First Day of Sydney Siege Inquest Reveals That a Hostage Was Killed by Police Fire

The opening day of the inquest confirmed media rumors that investigators found that fragments from police bullets killed Katrina Dawson, and raised questions about the gunfight that ended the siege.
Image via AP/Rob Griffith

The coroner's inquest into the deaths during the Sydney Siege opened today, with a confirmation that investigators believe that one hostage, Katrina Dawson, was killed by fragments of bullets fired by police.

The inquest is a mandatory hearing into all the deaths during the December 15 standoff in a Lindt cafe, including the gunman, Man Haron Monis, as well as two hostages — Dawson and the cafe's manager Tori Johnson.

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Jeremy Gormly SC, the counsel assisting the inquest, said that during the sudden gunfight that ended the 16-hour siege Dawson was killed by six bullet fragments originating from police rounds.

"This court has no difficulty making criticisms or adverse findings of police if it's necessary. Every shot fired by Mr. Monis and by police officers is likely to be accounted for," he added.

The fragments were created when police fire struck hard surfaces inside the building and ricocheted away. The interior of the Lindt cafe where the siege took place is almost entirely made of marble.

"I'll not detail the damage done to Ms. Dawson," continued Gormly, "other than to say that one fragment struck a major blood vessel. She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards."

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Gormly detailed a timeline of events during his opening address that had previously only been known to investigators, as many of the hostages had refused to speak publicly.

At 8.33am Monis entered the cafe. "He brought into the cafe a hidden, pump action shotgun. It was short, having been shorn off at the butt and the barrel," said Gormly.

Monis then ordered a piece of chocolate cake and a cup of tea. After half an hour Monis spoke with Johnson, who told staff to lock the premises. At that point the attacker put on a bandana scrawled with Arabic writing, revealed his shotgun, and announced to his hostages: "This is an attack, I have a bomb."

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Monis did not have a bomb, nor had he planted bombs throughout the city, as he also claimed to police on the day of the siege. Johnson called police, under Monis' instruction, and told them that Australia was under attack by the Islamic State.

Throughout the day several hostages escaped the premises. How these groups got out of the cafe was not addressed in today's inquest, but the last of these groups fled shortly after 2.00am local time on December 16. At that time, Monis discharged his shotgun, hitting an area above the door that the hostages escaped from.

The gunman then made Johnson kneel on the floor. "After a short lapse of time, Mr. Monis simply shot him without further notice or warning in the back of the head," said Gormly. "The end of the barrel was about 75 centimetres from Mr. Johnson's head at the moment of discharge. Mr. Johnson is believed to have died immediately."

As police entered, Monis fired three more shots, but hit no one. Police fired 22 shots, and Monis was struck twice in the head and 11 times in the body by bullets or their fragments.

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Police also threw 11 flash bang distraction grenades into the cafe during the entry of the Tactical Operations Unit officers who ended the siege.

These details have raised questions about how police ended the standoff. Mitchell McAlister, a former operator with Australia's Second Commando Regiment, which is tasked with counter-terrorism operations, wrote an article prior to the inquest questioning the choice in weaponry.

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A 5.56 caliber ammunition used in the weapon could have a "dangerous effects in a dense and enclosed environment" such as the Lindt cafe, according to McAlister's article in SOFREP, an online journal largely written by special forces veterans.

"The siege was isolated to the confines of the Lindt cafe, which had me wondering why a weapon system such as an M4A1 was favoured over, say, the H&K MP5 or H&K MP5 variants."

McAlister however, did make clear he supported police action in general, believing the resolution could have been much worse.

The hearing has now been adjourned until a later date. The inquest will investigate every detail leading to the deaths, including how Monis came to possess a gun, given Australia's tight gun control laws.

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell