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Sydney siege: The monster named Man

He had been accused of dozens of counts of sexual assault while he was working as a "spiritual healer", and was allegedly linked to the brutal murder of an ex-wife.

Self-described cleric, Man Haron Monis, 50, was the gunman who took about 30 people hostage in a Sydney cafe yesterday morning.

The siege finally ended at 2.30am (Australian time) when police stormed Lindt chocolate cafe.

Two people were reported dead, but it was not clear whether the gunman was among them. However, media reports said Monis had died.

Other hostages were seen running out of the cafe after police charged into the cafe.

Monis was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assaults relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed spiritual healer who dealt with black magic at a premises in western Sydney more than a decade ago.

He was out on bail in relation to two separate, serious cases.

He was charged in November last year with being an accessory before and after the fact to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal, a mother of two.

Ms Pal was stabbed and set alight in a Werrington apartment block.

Monis' girlfriend, Amirah Droudis, has been charged with the murder, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

In April this year, Monis was charged with the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney in 2002.

News of his arrest prompted more victims to come forward and Monis was hit with an additional 40 charges in October.

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It is alleged that Monis placed ads in local newspapers offering "spiritual consultation".

He claimed to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic.

He first came to the attention of police when he penned poison letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers seven years ago.

It has been his on-going legal battle for his conviction for penning the letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers between 2007 and 2009 that had consumed him.

It is understood that yesterday's incident followed an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempt in the High Court on Friday to have the charges overturned.

He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond for the "offensive and deplorable letters" sent with the assistance of Droudis.

Monis, who has also gone by the names of Sheikh Haron and Mohammad Hassan Manteghi, was born in Iran and most recently had been living at Bexley North in Sydney's south.

A website that appears to have been made by Monis or his supporters said the latest allegations were "in fact political cases against this Muslim activist, not real criminal cases".

Monis had posted online that the charges were part of a witch hunt against him.

His former Facebook page, pulled down yesterday as the siege continued, had 14,725 "likes" when it was shut down.

Meanwhile, several stretchers were wheeled into the building, but it was unknown how many people may had been injured, AFP reported.

Five people had fled the cafe to safety earlier in the day and five more - three women and two men - were seen running out before the police attack.

At least one more woman was later carried out by paramedics.

Bomb squad officers sent a crawler robot into the Lindt chocolate cafe on Martin Place, an AFP reporter said.

Three men wearing full anti-bomb protection gear were seen outside the building.

Police had refused to comment on earlier reports that several bombs had been planted in Sydney or to reveal how many hostages had been taken.

Channel Seven reporter Chris Reason, whose newsroom is opposite the cafe, tweeted earlier: "From inside Martin Place newsroom, we've counted around 15 hostages - not 50 - mix of women, men, young, old - but no children."

From inside Martin Place newsroom, we've counted around 15 hostages ­- not 50 - mix of women, men, young, old but no children.

- A tweet from Channel Seven reporter Chris Reason, whose newsroom is opposite the cafe

This is a one-off random individual. It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged­goods individual who's done something outrageous.

- Monis's former lawyer Manny Conditsis on ABC. He said the public could be assured that the siege was not the work of an organised terrorist group

Uber backtracks over price hike

Popular web-based taxi firm Uber went into damage control mode yesterday, offering free rides to passengers fleeing an armed siege in Sydney after earlier hiking prices upwards of A$100 (S$108).

The company said it would also refund fares after initially implementing "surge pricing", which increases rates during peak demand, for passengers exiting Sydney's central business district as police surrounded a cafe where a gunman was holding hostages.

Online news website Mashable earlier reported that in the immediate aftermath of the Sydney siege, Uber began charging passengers four times regular fares with a minimum charge of A$100 to leave the area.

Uber tweeted that fares were "increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area".

Replies to the tweet, however, were almost uniformly negative.

'DISGRACE'

"What a shameful disgrace," wrote Twitter user Tyson Armstrong, while Lewis Henshall said: "Despicable @Uber-Sydney. Have you never heard of corporate responsibility?"

The company later issued a statement saying it "will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely" and that it was "in the process of refunding rides". - AFP.

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