SYDNEY (AP) — A police official described a group of people being held hostage by a gunman inside a Sydney cafe during a 16-hour ordeal as "jovial," a police commander told an inquest into the deadly siege on Monday.
The cheerful characterization, made during a police briefing 12 hours into the crisis, was at stark odds with the terrifying description the hostages have given of the hours they were held at gunpoint inside the Lindt Cafe in December 2014.
During a coronial inquest on Monday, New South Wales Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins testified that he was told the hostages were "jovial" by an official giving him a handover briefing as Jenkins took over as commander of the crisis during the final hours of the siege.
Jenkins said the description was largely prompted by the fact that the hostages could be seen through windows moving freely throughout the cafe.
Most of the hostages have described their experience as nightmarish and several have questioned why police didn't move in sooner. The crisis ended after gunman Man Haron Monis, a self-styled cleric with a long criminal history, fatally shot one of his captives, prompting police to storm the cafe. Monis was then shot dead by police and another hostage was killed in the crossfire.
"It's a remarkable word in the context, isn't it?" Jeremy Gormly, the lawyer assisting the coroner, asked Jenkins.
"It does appear to be, yes," Jenkins replied.
The inquest, a court-like proceeding convened after unusual deaths, is examining how authorities responded to the siege and whether it could have been prevented.
Last week, documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act showed that Monis had attracted the concern of the FBI five years before he launched his attack. A November 2009 memorandum from an FBI office in Australia to agency counterterrorism and international operations officials said that while Monis was not believed to be a threat to national security, "his ongoing offensive and nuisance behavior has the potential to incite others to violence."