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An inquest into the Lindt Cafe siege has questioned the snipers. Photo: Channel Seven Barrister Katrina Dawson and cafe manger Tori Johnson were killed during the siege. Photo: Supplied
苏州美甲美睫培训学校

An Islamic State flag was shifted upwards about 7.30, giving officers a better sight. Photo: Channel Seven

A sniper sets up on Philip Street at Martin Place. Photo: Don Arnold

Snipers’ capabilities ‘greatly diminished’ during Lindt cafe siegeScipione, Burn say they gave no advice or orders, inquest hears

The chief sniper said he felt certain the man in his sight was his target, the offender, “the baddie”.

Through a window of the Lindt cafe, beneath an Islamic flag, a shiny bald head wearing a black bandanna had come into view. The sniper could see at points up to two-thirds of the gunman’s face. By this time, the siege had worn on for more than nine hours and negotiations showed little to no sign of progress. Armed with a sawn-off shotgun – as well as a bomb, police feared – the gunman had declared allegiance to Islamic State.

Why did no sniper shoot?

The question was asked across Sydney, often in anger, after Man Haron Monis terrorised 18 captives and murdered one of them on December 16, 2014.

Eighteen months later, an inquest asked the snipers themselves.

The chief NSW police sniper during the siege, known as Sierra 3-1, collected his personalised Remington 700 bolt-action rifle in the morning and reported to his commander at Martin Place.

Normally, as a coordinator, he would have led his teams remotely. But this time he was ordered to enter the field. Getting into position

He joined two other snipers in the Sierra 3 team on level one of the Westpac building. He set up his rifle beside a coat stand and looked out through tinted windows at the Lindt cafe, 60 metres diagonally opposite.

Two more snipers were positioned in the Reserve Bank, another in the Channel Seven building. These vantages were not criticised by an Australian military sniper assisting the operation, the inquest has heard.

Sierra 3 team sometimes glimpsed the gunman passing through the cafe with hostages, far back.

About 6pm, senior police asked what shots were available if Monis appeared close behind a door or window on the “white wall”, as police coded the Martin Place side of the cafe.

“White door one good, white windows one, two and three all good, white window four not a guaranteed shot,” their report was summarised in a police log.

White window four on the far right was more obscured, on a more acute angle.

But this most tenuous option suddenly became much more promising about 7.30pm. An Islamic flag in the window had been shifted upward. Sierras 3-1 and 3-3 could both see what looked like Monis from behind.

“Our objective is to shoot the offender through the brainstem,” Sierra 3-1 said in evidence on Thursday. “They literally just drop.” No chance to pull a trigger or push a button.

Monis’ threats of a backpack bomb turned out to be hollow but such a device was one of the police’s greatest fears. A commander said when the assault team was eventually sent in, “I expected that place to probably blow up.”

A missed shot risked “catastrophic consequences”, to use the phrase of the Sierras and their tactical commander. Even a successful shot of the target was dangerous. The tungsten core of Sierra 3-1’s round was likely to have pierced through Monis and potentially hit a hostage. Not ‘100 per cent’ certain

But could the snipers be sure in the first place the figure in the window was Monis?

Sierra 3-3 was “quietly confident” but not “100 per cent” certain, he told the inquest. His boss, Sierra 3-1, was certain. “I didn’t have a doubt at that point.”

He told the deputy tactical commander about the shot. “His concern with me, his concern was that it was in fact a hostage wearing a bandanna.”

Then there was the law to consider. Marksmen cannot be ordered to fire. “I’m no more justified in firing my firearm than a general duties officer who is on the street,” Sierra 3-3 said.

Snipers too must satisfy themselves a shot is needed to prevent an immediate threat of death or serious injury.

Barrister Gabrielle Bashir, SC, for the family of cafe manager Tori Johnson, asked Sierra 3-1 if this threshold had not been met.

“All the information and intelligence I gathered didn’t satisfy the immediate part,” he said.

Bashir asked him if he had known about specific threats by Monis to kill hostages.The sniper replied even if he had, he would still not have judged the threat immediate.

Would he have shot if legally justified?

“Yes,” he told the Coroner’s Court.

But subsequent ballistics tests showed such a shot would almost certainly have missed its mark, having to travel first through the thick glass of the Westpac window.

A Ruag Swiss P armour-piercing round fired on a test range disintegrated. Not a fragment hit the second pane of glass, representing the Lindt cafe window.

Sierra 3-3 had 7.62mm glass-cutting rounds but never planned on trying on trying to shoot through two layers. Instead, another team member had stood by with a shotgun to blast a hole the size of a tennis ball in the first window. On testing, the blast hole was disappointingly small, the glass around it heavily crazed, reducing visibility.

“Having two mediums of glass to get through, the potential hazards that would have caused if the shot was missed, the risk to those inside – all those things greatly reduced our confidence,” Sierra 3-3 said. Knowing now the ballistics results, his confidence was “greatly reduced” again. Useful role

Even without a target in sight, the snipers continued to play an invaluable role as observers.

By 2am they had been looking through their sights for more than 14 hours. At 2.03am they saw six hostages escape through a foyer out onto Phillip Street. They heard a gunshot, the first of the siege. Monis had fired in the direction of the escapees.

Then Sierras 3-1 and 3-3 saw Tori Johnson through a window. Johnson was kneeling, “both hands interlocking behind his head”. Monis was out of sight but Sierra 3-1 thought he might have placed the hostage in this position so he could not escape. The possibility Monis might have been preparing to execute Johnson also passed through his mind.

A muzzle flash, then Johnson fell forward, “flinching”, before sitting back up.

Sierra 3-1 told the inquest he was confident he told his commanders about these “significant” developments via radio. But these broadcasts went unacknowledged.

“I had no reason to believe I had not been heard,” he said.

Last month a tactical commander testified that had he known Johnson had been placed on his knees, he would have recommended police storm the building immediately. The inquest has heard Johnson was kneeling for seven minutes before Monis killed him.

Sierra 3-3 saw the muzzle flash.

“Then I saw Johnson fall forward,” Sierra 3-3 said, his voice becoming thick with emotion in the witness stand. “I couldn’t see him after that.”

He called “white window two, hostage down, white window two, hostage down.”

This time the message went through. Seconds later, at 2.13am, a tactical assault team broke into the cafe. Monis was shot through the head; his injuries were too severe to know precisely how many times. But fragments from police rounds also ricocheted, killing barrister Katrina Dawson, who had been lying almost directly beneath Monis at the start of the gunfight.

Twenty-two rounds in total were fired by police officers A and B. The inquest will soon hear from them.

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