SYDNEY - The Iranian-born gunman behind last year's deadly siege in an Australian cafe that shocked the country was a complex and secretive character prone to grandiose claims, 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, 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 self-styled cleric to see whether the deaths could have been avoided.
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.
Johnson was shot dead by Monis at point-blank range while mother-of-three 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 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, counsel assisting the coroner Jeremy Gormly said.
"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," Gormly said.
He added that after arriving in Australia in 1996 aged 31, Monis took an array of names.
"He was secretive in many respects ... yet he kept records dating back many years," Gormly said, adding that Monis had lodged tax returns, reported changes of address and name and even filled out a form for police on staging a protest.
This "contrast between compliance and illegality" was a thread which ran through Monis's time in Australia, he said.
"Mr. Monis appears to have led a relatively isolated existence," Gormly said. "Mr. Monis has proved to be a complex and secretive man about his own life even though he could be very public about his views." Gormly said Monis had unquestionably suffered some mental health issues, but these appeared "modest".
The inquest is being conducted across numerous sessions throughout the year with an outcome not expected until 2016.