The cop who shot and killed the Lindt Cafe siege terrorist has shared some harrowing details about the 2014 attack, including how he thought he was going to die from a potential bomb blast.
The tactical police officer, Ben (not his real name), has recently released a book, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! about his memories from the siege that saw two hostages Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson and the gunman killed Man Haron Monis.
He shared some of those memories on news.com.au’s podcast I’ve Got News For You.
The siege begins
It was around 9.40am on Monday, December 15, when the terrorist (who Ben didn’t want to name) asked to speak to the manager inside the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place.
When the manager, Tori Johnson, approached his table, the terrorist told him to lock the doors and to call triple-0 and inform them that Australia was under attack by the Islamic State.
Mr Johnson told the emergency operator that, according to the terrorist, there were three bombs in three different locations around Sydney: Martin Place, Circular Quay and George Street.
When news of the situation reached Ben and the Tactical Operations Unit, they rushed to the scene.
“There were police everywhere,” Ben told I’ve Got News For You. “There were already numerous media cameras and reporters everywhere … the scene was quite hectic when we arrived.”
Ben and his team initially took up position on the corner of Elizabeth St and Martin Place, and after a few hours they were permitted to approach the cafe for a closer look at the 18 hostages inside.
“We were able to see numerous hostages in there who were in a very distraught state,” Ben recalled. “And I also saw the terrorist.
“I observed him with a pump action shotgun and a big black backpack which was full of something, and I could see wires coming out of the bottom.”
The suspected bomb
Ben had recently done specialist training with bomb experts, and he was convinced that the terrorist’s backpack contained an explosive device.
“We all wholeheartedly believed that it was a bomb and that the moment we were required to go in (the cafe), that he would detonate that bomb and kill everyone inside, including us,” Ben told I’ve Got News For You.
“That was definitely our belief, that once we made entry, we were all going to die.”
When the reality of the situation sank in, Ben started texting his partner.
“I was doing my best to say my goodbyes without letting her know exactly what I believed my predicament was,” he said.
“I got her to send more photos of our baby girl so I could look over them because I totally believed that I wouldn’t be seeing them again.”
Why the terrorist wasn’t killed by a sniper
There were police snipers set up in three different locations during the siege, and there’s been some criticism in the past as to why snipers weren’t given the green light to take the terrorist out.
“I didn’t see it as a viable option,” Ben said. “He had the backpack bomb on him the whole time, and anytime he exposed himself to any of the windows where a potential shot could occur, he always had a hostage in front of him with the shotgun to either their back or the back of their head.”
Ben said there was also a concern that the terrorist had a bomb with a ‘deadman switch’, which would mean the device would most likely detonate if the terrorist was shot.
One of the hostages is helped by the tactical police after she escapes from the cafe. Picture: Adam Taylor
At around 3.30pm, three hostages decided to make a run for it and managed to escape the cafe.
Just over an hour later, two more hostages managed to do the same.
The siege continued for several more hours with the terrorist growing increasingly frustrated that his demand to speak with the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, wasn’t being met.
Sixteen hours after the siege began, another group of hostages decided to make a dash for freedom.
Six of them managed to escape just after 2am on December 16, with the terrorist shooting at the group as they fled the building.
More hostages escape at the scene early in the morning. Picture: Bill Hearne
Still no entry
Ben is critical of the fact the Tactical Operations Unit weren’t given the order to storm the cafe once the terrorist had shot at the fleeing hostages.
“I tried to be quite diplomatic in relation to the bosses decision making (in Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!),” Ben said. “I don’t know all the information they had throughout the day.
“But when they (the six hostages) made their escape, he fired on them, just missing them, and from that moment that’s he fired on hostages in an attempt to kill them, I cannot understand why we were not allowed to go in from that moment.”
It would be another 10 minutes until Ben and his team received the order.
Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson were killed in the siege. Picture: John Grainger
Police storm the cafe
Reeling from the escape of the hostages, the terrorist told cafe manager Tori Johnson to get on his knees.
At 2.13am, he shot and killed Mr Johnson from behind.
50 seconds later, Ben and the Tactical Operations team were given the order to enter the cafe.
Once inside, Ben fired 17 shots at the attacker as the terrorist returned fire.
“At some point he managed to fire off another round with his shotgun,” Ben recalled. “I was only seven or eight metres away.”
Ben’s shield man had been taken out by a previous shot, so there was nothing between Ben and the terrorist.
“In that moment, I was sure I was gonna be hit,” Ben said. “I even remember flinching and just waiting to be hit by the shotgun, which didn’t happen, thank god.”
Ben fired the majority of his shots at the terrorist’s chest, but eventually changed tact because the target wasn’t dropping.
“I made the decision to move my laser pointer to his head,” Ben said. “He then appeared to be going down but I couldn’t be sure if he was going down to a knee or not, so I fired on him another couple of times until he hit the ground and I was of the belief that he was incapacitated.”
The terrorist Man Haron Monis.The book Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!
The threat wasn’t over
With the terrorist down, Ben’s attention quickly turned to the suspected bomb.
“I still had my rifle and laser on him, waiting to engage again to see if he’d made any move to detonate the bomb,” Ben said. “Also in my mind, there’s now a consideration, ‘is it about to detonate through a deadman switch?’
“Even at close range looking at the backpack, it still looked completely like a bomb to me. It was full, it had wires coming out.”
Ben helped evacuate the remaining hostages, four of whom were injured but alive after being struck by bullet fragments.
One of the other hostages, Katrina Dawson, was killed in the firefight.
“I was the operator who found Katrina … and I don’t want to talk about it too much, but she pretty much died in my arms,” Ben told I’ve Got News For You. “It had, and still does to this day, a very detrimental effect on me.”
With the hostages evacuated, a bomb clearance team entered the cafe but found no explosive devices.
Ben developed PTSD as a result of the Lindt Cafe siege, as well as other life threatening incidents he faced during his career.
He ended up seeking treatment in a psychiatric hospital and left the police force.
The decision to write the book, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! came about through his PTSD treatment.
“Part of that is exposure therapy .. exposing yourself to these incidents as many times and as much as possible so you can try and process it as a memory and not just leave it as a locked up memory,” he said.
“I did lots of writing and then I’d read it over … and then my partner suggested I write a book.
“I spoke to my psychologist about it and she thought it’d be a great idea for my therapy.
“I believe it has definitely been a good thing to do.”
Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! is out now