Police have identified the man behind the on-going siege in Sydney as Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed cleric and former "spiritual healer" granted political asylum in Australia from Iran. Monis was recently charged with 50 counts of indecent exposure and sexual assault, and as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who was stabbed and lit on fire in Sydney last year. He was also convicted of sending offensive letters to the family members of dead Australian soldiers.

"His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Manny Conditsis, Monis's former lawyer, told Australia's ABC. Conditsis also said he believes Monis is acting alone.

"This is a one-off random individual," he said. "It's not a concerted terrorism event or act. It's a damaged goods individual whose done something outrageous."

The Sydney Morning Herald has more on Monis:

He recently likened himself on his own webpage to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the most recent charges against him have been laid for "political reasons".

His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month stating: "I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah".

It has been Monis' on-going legal battle for his conviction for penning the poisonous letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers between 2007 and 2009 that has consumed him.

It is understood Monday's incident followed an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempted in the High Court on Friday to have the charges overturned.

Police negotiations with Monis, who last night took over a dozen people hostage in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, are on-going. Earlier today, six people fled the cafe, though it was not immediately clear if they were released or escaped.

[Image via ABC News]