THE tactical commander during the final moments of the Sydney siege did not believe the Lindt café captives were in “mortal danger” even though an “ISIS inspired terrorist” had fired a shot at escaping hostages.
The commander, whose name is suppressed, denied he should have activated the emergency action that would have seen police storm the café to bring the hostage crisis to an end.
Gabrielle Bashir SC, the barrister representing slain café manager Tori Johnson’s family, said to the commander at the siege inquest on Wednesday afternoon the EA should have been triggered twice during the final minutes.
First, at 2.03am as the hostages fled and gunman Man Monis fired a shot, then minutes later when Mr Johnson was ordered to his knees.
“There has been a loss of control in the stronghold [the café] there were hostages running for their lives and those inside were in mortal danger.”
The commander said he believed the remaining hostages “were in danger” causing Ms Bashir to say “they were in mortal danger”.
The commander then said: “I do believe they were I danger, I don’t believe they were in mortal danger.”
The commander had earlier been forced to concede he would not have given the all clear for police to begin their assault on the Martin Pl café even though he knew Mr Johnson had been forced to kneel with his hands on his head.
Instead the commander would have had a “conversation” with his superior, the police forward commander, before a decision was made to enter the café.
Ms Bashir SC, asked him if it was his evidence that he wouldn’t have given the order himself, at that point — even though an “ISIS inspired terrorist” had forced a hostage to kneel.
“In the wake of hostages escaping and a shot being fired … and a hostage being forced to their knees by an ISIS inspired terrorist, you yourself wouldn’t have initiated the EA?”
Mr Johnson was forced to kneel minutes after six hostages escaped and Monis — who had been threatening to kill hostages if they escaped — fired a shot at them.
The tactical commander told the inquest on Wednesday afternoon he believed the emergency action, that is police storming the café, would likely have been made very quickly and if it was up to him he would have made it.
Ms Bashir pressed him on the issue, insisting he did have the authority to order the EA to be activated.
In spite of that, “you yourself wouldn’t commit the EA”, she said to him.
The commander answered the forward commander was “in charge” and bedside him and that was who was going to have to order the EA.
“The fact is they were in immediate danger,” she said.
He didn’t accept the remaining hostages were imminent threat to death or serious injury because the shot hadn’t been fired at them, but later conceded he could not rule out the shot being fired at the escapees.
“I didn’t know the terrorist’s intent.”
Ms Bashir: “But you couldn’t rule it out?
He said police were aware the bomb Monis supposedly had in his backpack could have “initiated” if they began an assault on the café, and was something they were actively considering.
“It’s the case isn’t it the real reason you didn’t order entry earlier because there was no other trigger point to enter other than death or serious injury to hostage on that night,” she said to the commander.
She said his continual reference to hostages escaping “unharmed” was an “indicator” that police would only have acted if a hostage was injured or killed because the trigger point was “set so high and enforced at “such a high level.”
He replied: “That’s not my view or opinion.”
COPS DISCUSSED SHOOTING OPTIONS
As hostages were being lined up against the Lindt cafe windows with an “agitated” Monis behind them, tactical police around Martin Place began discussing the “shooting” options.
It was just after 6pm on December 15, 2014 and two groups of hostages had fled the cafe. Monis could be seen through the windows in a baseball cap, a backpack on his back yelling at hostages to stand by the window with the Islamic State flag.
At that time, police began urgently meeting about what they could see happening — and what their “firing solutions” were.
The NSW police tactical commander confirmed to Ms Bashir that the discussion was happening after police learned the panic and distress of the hostages was “escalating”.
But the commander, who cannot be named, denied the meetings were solely to discuss “shooting options”.
He told the siege inquest on Wednesday the conversations they were having were also to get updates about what each sniper and team could see from their location.
Ms Bashir put it to the commander that by shortly after 6pm the positions were “well and truly” known, but the commander replied they were under constant review particularly as night loomed.
He said they had been asked for a situational update and also what their “firing solutions” were, but denied that was in response to the rapidly escalating distress of the hostages.
Despite that, he did not believe there was an imminent risk of a hostage being shot.
“Is it your evidence that nothing had changed [after the hostage escape]?” Ms Bashir asked.
He answered that in terms of the imminent risk to hostages, the risk level hadn’t changed.
Ms Bashir asked him if he was aware of the escaped hostages’ opinion that Monis didn’t have an escape plan which was “consistent with your understanding of a terrorists motivation”.
“That’s what I was thinking,” the commander said.
The inquest continues.