The first time former Fiji national and Hayward, California, resident Ayyut Khalik met Man Haron Monis — the Sydney hostage-taker who was shot dead by police early on Tuesday this week — it was just days before Monis was to marry Khalik’s goddaughter and former Fiji citizen Noleen Hayson Pal.
He immediately sensed something was wrong with the man.
“He didn’t look me eye to eye,” Khalik, 57, said of the 2003 meeting.
“If a person doesn’t look straight to you, and talk to you, you can sense he’s hiding something, like he’s trying to dodge you or stay away from you, so the first impression wasn’t a very good impression.”
Khalik, a truck driver who moved to the Bay Area from Fiji in 1975, talked about Monis in his kitchen, a day after Australian police stormed the cafe where Monis had held 17 people. Two hostages were killed, though it wasn’t immediately clear how they died.
Khalik described a troubled man who allegedly helped kill his goddaughter.
Monis, an Iranian-born, self-described spiritual healer and Islamic sheikh, was charged in November 2013 as an accessory in the murder of Pal, who was allegedly stabbed and burned by Monis’ new partner. Before that, Pal had considered moving to the Bay Area with her two children — in part to escape Monis.
According to Khalik, Monis and Pal met at an Australian university in the early 2000s. Khalik and his children then visited Sydney for the wedding. It was a beautiful event, he said, and while he didn’t like Monis — who at the time went by “Michael” and said he was Egyptian — he didn’t voice his concerns to Pal’s parents for fear of upsetting them.
But in 2010, Khalik said, Monis became abusive and controlling of Pal.
“He was mostly hitting her, keeping her inside the house, not letting her go anywhere,” he said. “She’s not supposed to go out with anybody without her mom or him, and he wasn’t taking her. He kind of isolated her from everybody.”
Monis voiced extreme religious views, Khalik said, and forced Pal to wear the hijab. He said Monis sent mocking letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in the Iraq War — an action that reportedly led to a conviction in 2013 and a probation sentence.
In 2011, Pal’s family kicked Monis out of the home they had built for the couple behind their house in Sydney. After the separation, Khalik said, Monis repeatedly called him and his family begging for forgiveness.
“He would call us, talk to my wife, my mom or me, to try to patch things up. I told him, ‘You know what, I’ve been married to my wife for so long and I’ve never hit her, never slapped her, and I’m not going to let anybody slap my [god]daughter,’” he said.
“He said, ‘Oh, I’m going to change,’ this and that, blah blah blah,” Khalik said.
“I said, ‘No, it’s not going to happen.’”
Pal’s family warned her to travel with others and to never go out alone, and to only walk around in public places, so she would be safe from Monis. In 2012, she visited Khalik and his family in Hayward and discussed plans to move to America.
However, she said she first had to gain custody of the couple’s two children, who are now 6 and 10. Monis had taken the children’s passports away before Pal visited the U.S.
Khalik remembered the visit fondly.
“She was full of life, man,” he said. “She was very, very nice, and anybody would want to have a daughter like that. She was very happy, she wanted to pursue her dreams. … She was a very, very good mother to her kids. Whatever the kids wanted, she took them out, bought them whatever they wanted.”
Those dreams disappeared when Khalik received a call from Pal’s father in April 2013, letting him know she had been fatally stabbed and burned. Khalik said his goddaughter’s body had to be identified through a tattoo she had gotten in America, while visiting Khalik and his family.
“I said, ‘How?’ I had goose bumps, I had tears in my eyes, I couldn’t even stand up,” Khalik said. “She was a goddaughter, but she was like my own daughter.”
Australian police charged Monis’ partner with murder and Monis with being an accessory before and after the attack. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Monis was out on bail when he launched his assault on the cafe.
“They let him out on bail and this happened,” Khalik said. “If he was still in jail, these hostage victims would still be alive, man. People like that, if I’m a judge, I’m not going to put him out on bail, hell no, because they are a danger to society, people like that.”
Still, Khalik said he never thought Monis would do something so extreme.
Monis’ kids have been with Pal’s mother since Pal was slain in 2013. The younger son doesn’t know what happened in the cafe, Khalik said, but the older son does.
“He’s in shock right now,” he said.
Khalik, whose family is Muslim, heard that Monis was the hostage-taker through a relative who lives in Australia. He said he was horrified by the hostages’ suffering. Monis’ actions, he added, will negatively impact other Muslims.
“One person makes the religion look bad,” he said. “People start to look at us a different way, like all Muslims are terrorists. But we’re not terrorists and we’re not extremists.”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE