Christchurch mosque shootings

Christchurch mosque shootings
Part of Terrorism in New Zealand and far-right politics in Australia
Christchurch Mosque, New Zealand.jpg
The Al Noor Mosque in August 2019
The mosques are located in Christchurch, New Zealand
Al Noor Mosque
Al Noor Mosque
Linwood Islamic Centre
Linwood Islamic Centre
Show map of Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch is located in New Zealand
Christchurch
Christchurch
Show map of New Zealand
Location Christchurch, New Zealand
Coordinates
Date 15 March 2019 (2019-03-15)
c. 1:40 p.m. – 1:59 p.m. (NZDT; UTC+13)
Target Muslim worshippers
Attack type
Mass shooting,[1] terrorist attack,[2] shooting spree, hate crime
Weapons Two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns, one lever-action rifle
Deaths 51[3]
Injured 49
Perpetrator Brenton Harrison Tarrant
Motive
Charges 51 counts of murder
40 counts of attempted murder
One count of engaging in a terrorist act

Two consecutive mass shootings occurred at mosques in a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday Prayer on 15 March 2019.[7] The attack, carried out by a single gunman who entered both mosques, began at the Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton at 1:40 p.m. and continued at Linwood Islamic Centre at 1:52 p.m.[8][9][10][11][12] He killed 51 people[13][14] and injured 49.[3]

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old man from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, was arrested shortly afterward. He was described in media reports as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right. He had live-streamed the first shooting on Facebook,[15] and prior to the attack, had published an online manifesto which many considered equivalent to shitposting; both the video and manifesto were subsequently banned in New Zealand.[16][17][18][19] After police investigation, he was charged with 51 murders, 40 attempted murders, and engaging in a terrorist act. He initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, with the trial expected to start on 2 June 2020.[20][21] On 26 March 2020, he changed his plea to guilty on all charges. He was convicted and his sentencing will begin on 24 August 2020.[22][23]

The attack was linked to an increase in white supremacy and alt-right extremism globally[24][25] observed since about 2015.[26][27] Politicians and world leaders condemned it,[28] and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as "one of New Zealand's darkest days".[29] The government established a royal commission of inquiry into its security agencies in the wake of the shootings, which was the deadliest in modern New Zealand history.[30][31]

Background

New Zealand has been considered a safe and tolerant place with low levels of gun violence[32] and was named the second most peaceful country in the world by Global Peace Index in 2019, the year of the attacks.[33] This attack was the first mass shooting in the country since the Raurimu massacre in 1997.[34] Prior to that, the deadliest public mass shooting was the 1990 Aramoana massacre, in which 13 people died.[35] While the country has rarely been associated with the extreme right,[36] experts have suggested that far-right extremism has been growing in New Zealand.[37] The sociologist Paul Spoonley has called Christchurch a hotbed for white supremacists and the extreme nationalist movement,[37] a suggestion rejected by Christchurch MP Gerry Brownlee.[38] Australia, where the gunman, Brenton Tarrant, was from, has also seen an increase in xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia.[39]

In the 2018 census, over 57,000 New Zealand residents reported their religion as Islam, around 1.2% of the total population.[40][41] The Al Noor Mosque opened in 1985; it was the first mosque in the South Island.[42] The Linwood Islamic Centre opened in early 2018.[43]

Shootings

Al Noor Mosque

Tarrant arrived at the Al Noor Mosque, Riccarton, and began shooting worshippers at around 1:40 p.m. Police received the first emergency call at 1:41 p.m.[44] Between 300 and 500 people may have been inside the mosque attending Friday prayer at the time of the shooting.[45] A neighbour of the mosque told reporters he saw Tarrant flee and drop what appeared to be a firearm in the driveway.[46]

Tarrant live-streamed the first 17 minutes of his attack on Facebook Live, starting with the drive to the Al Noor mosque and ending as he drives away from the mosque.[47] Moments before the shooting, he played several songs, including "The British Grenadiers", a traditional British military marching song; and "Remove Kebab", a Serb nationalist song celebrating Radovan Karadžić, who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.[48][49][50] One witness said Tarrant continued to play "military music" from a portable speaker inside the mosque.[51] As he approached the front entrance to the mosque, Tarrant appeared to be greeted by one of the worshippers, who said "Hello, brother" and was the first victim to be killed in the attack.[52][53][54]

Tarrant spent several minutes inside the mosque, shooting attendees indiscriminately. He first fired nine shots from a shotgun towards the front entrance before dropping it. He then began using a semi-automatic rifle and opened fire on people inside. He killed three people near the entrance and dozens more inside a prayer hall. A strobe-light attached to one of his weapons was used to disorient victims.[55] During the attack, a worshipper, Naeem Rashid, charged at him and was shot; Rashid later died from his injuries.[56][57][58][59] Tarrant fired indiscriminately at worshippers in the prayer hall from close range, shooting many of his victims multiple times. He then left the mosque and fired on more people outside. Returning to his vehicle, he retrieved another weapon before returning to the mosque and opening fire again on people who were already wounded and unable to escape. Tarrant exited the mosque once more and killed a woman lying wounded on the footpath as she pleaded for help. He then returned to his car and fled the scene[52][60] to the music of "Fire" by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown,[61][62][63] in which the singer proclaims: "I am the god of hellfire!"[64][65][66] Tarrant had been planning to set fire to the mosque, as stated when he drove away to the Linwood Islamic Centre: "It was too quick. I should've stayed longer. There was more time for the fuel."[67]

He had spent a total of about six minutes at the Al Noor Mosque.[68] At 1:46 p.m., as Tarrant drove away from the mosque, the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) arrived near the scene. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at this point Tarrant was already leaving the area, his car hidden by a bus. At this time, AOS members did not know how many shooters there were and were not informed that the offender had left the mosque. At 1:51 p.m., first responders arrived at the Al Noor Mosque.[69] About three minutes after Tarrant left the mosque, his vehicle passed by one or more police vehicles responding to the shooting, but remained undetected by police as he continued on his way eastwards on Bealey Ave to the Linwood Islamic Centre.[68][70][71][72] As Tarrant drove to the Linwood Islamic Centre, reports came in of a vehicle driving "erratically" along Bealey Ave.[73] When Tarrant reached the end of Bealey Ave, the headcam footage suddenly stops and the livestream ends.[9]

Linwood Islamic Centre

Linwood Islamic Centre, March 2020. At the time of the shootings, there was a building at the front of the section and access was along a driveway to the left.

A second attack began at 1:52 p.m.[8] at the Linwood Islamic Centre,[74][75] a mosque 5 kilometres (3 mi) east of the Al Noor Mosque.[52] According to a witness, Tarrant was initially unable to find the mosque's main door, instead shooting people outside and through a window, alerting those inside. About 100 people were inside the mosque at the time.[76]

The mosque's acting imam credited a worshipper named Abdul Aziz Wahabzada with stopping the attack.[77][78][79][80] Wahabzada told reporters he had taken a credit card reader and ran out of the mosque, by which time Tarrant outside had already shot several people. Tarrant was about to retrieve another gun from his car, so Wahabzada threw the reader at him. Tarrant took a rifle from his car and fired at Wahabzada, who took cover among nearby cars and retrieved an empty shotgun Tarrant had dropped. Despite Wahabzada's attempt to draw Tarrant's attention away from the mosque by shouting "I'm here!", he entered the mosque and continued firing. When Tarrant returned to his car again, Wahabzada threw the shotgun at the car, shattering one of its windows or its windscreen. Tarrant then drove away from the mosque at 1:55 p.m.,[8][77][78][79][81] and a minute later, a member of the public waved down a police car to report shots had been fired in Linwood.[8]

At 1:59 p.m., police arrived at the Linwood Islamic Centre, the same minute Tarrant was arrested on Brougham Street.[8]

Arrest

Early reports indicated "multiple, simultaneous attack[s]",[82] but later, only a single suspect, Tarrant, was implicated.[83][84] A gold[85] Subaru Outback[86] matching the description of Tarrant's vehicle was seen by a police unit and a pursuit was initiated at 1:57 p.m. Tarrant was arrested on Brougham Street in Sydenham at 1:59 p.m., 18 minutes after the first emergency call.[87] Video footage taken by an onlooker showed his car had been rammed against the kerb by a police car before his arrest at gunpoint.[88][89] The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said Tarrant had been planning to continue the attacks at a third location,[90] possibly the mosque in Ashburton or the An-Nur Child Care Centre in Hornby.[91] According to Ardern, "There were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack".[92] Police Commissioner Mike Bush corroborated this, saying police had stopped Tarrant on his way to a third location.[93]

Victims

Fifty-one people, 47 male and 4 female, were killed in the attacks: 42 at the Al Noor Mosque, 7 at the Linwood Islamic Centre,[10] one who died shortly after in Christchurch Hospital, and another who died in the hospital on 2 May, seven weeks after the attacks.[70][94][3] Those killed were between 3 and 77 years old.[95] The hospital's Chief of Surgery said on 16 March that four had died in ambulances en route to the hospital.[96] On 17 March, Commissioner Bush said 50 other people had been injured in the attacks, 36 of whom were being treated for gunshot wounds in hospital.[13][14] Two were in a serious condition, and a 4-year-old girl was transferred to Starship Hospital in Auckland in a critical condition.[97]

In the days following the attacks, dozens of people remained missing[98] and several diplomatic offices and foreign ministries released statements regarding the number of victims from their nations.[99][100][101] Police requested that people listed as missing, though actually safe, register themselves on the Restoring Family Links website.[102] The New Zealand Red Cross published a list of missing people which included nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.[103] Among the dead listed in New Zealand Police media releases were citizens of Bangladesh, Egypt, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Pakistan and Palestine.[104][105][106][107] A citizen from Turkey died in the hospital in early May.[3] Atta Elayyan, an IT entrepreneur and player in the New Zealand futsal team, was among those killed.[108][109]

The known nationalities of the deceased are as follows.[110][111]

Victims' nationalities
Country Deaths
Pakistan 9
India 7
Bangladesh 5
Egypt 4
United Arab Emirates 3
Fiji 3
Somalia 2
Syria 2
Indonesia 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1
New Zealand 1
Unknown/not stated 12

Perpetrator

Police charged Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, with murder in relation to the attack.[112] He grew up in Grafton, New South Wales, attended Grafton High School,[113] and worked as a personal trainer in his hometown from 2009 to 2011.[114]

Around 2012, Tarrant started visiting a number of countries in Asia and Europe. Police in Bulgaria and Turkey are investigating his visits to their countries.[115][116] Security officials suspected he had come into contact with far-right organisations about two years before the shooting, while visiting European nations.[117] He donated €1,500 to Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (IBÖ), the Austrian branch of Generation Identity (part of the Identitarian movement) in Europe, as well as €2,200 to Génération Identitaire, the French branch of the group, and interacted with IBÖ leader Martin Sellner via email between January 2018 and July 2018, offering to meet in Vienna and a linking to his YouTube channel.[118][119][120]

Captivated with sites of battles between Christian European nations and the Ottoman Empire, Tarrant went on another series of visits to the Balkans in 2016–2018, with Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina confirming his presence there in these years.[121] He posted Balkan nationalist material on social media platforms,[122] and called for the United States to be weakened in order to prevent events such as the NATO intervention in Kosovo in response to a Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign against Muslim Albanians.[49][121][123] He said he was against intervention by NATO because he saw the Serbian military as "Christian Europeans attempting to remove these Islamic occupiers from Europe".[49][123]

In 2016, three years prior to the attacks, Tarrant praised Blair Cottrell as a leader of the far-right movements in Australia and made more than 30 comments on the now-deleted "United Patriots Front" and "True Blue Crew" pages. An Australian Broadcasting Corporation team who studied the comments called them "fragments and digital impressions of a well-travelled young man who frequented hate-filled anonymous messaging boards and was deeply engaged in a global alt-right culture."[124] A Melbourne man said that in 2016, he filed a police complaint after Tarrant allegedly told him in an online conversation, "I hope one day you meet the rope". He said that the police told him to block Tarrant and did not take a statement from him. The police said that they were unable to locate a complaint.[125]

He said he is racist but not xenophobic. He is thought to have became obsessed with terrorist attacks committed by Islamic extremists in 2016 and 2017, started planning an attack about two years prior to the shootings, and chose his targets three months in advance.[126]

He supported Brexit and admitted that he is a fascist. He expressed his hopes to create a "gun conflict" in the United States over gun ownership.[126]

At the time of his arrest, Tarrant had been living for a few years in Andersons Bay in Dunedin.[127] He was a member of a South Otago gun club and practised shooting at its range.[128] A neighbour, who shared an internal wall with Tarrant in his house in Andersons Bay, described him as a "bit of a recluse" and a "loner, but a friendly loner." The neighbour also stated that Tarrant would offer to mow the lawns for his and his neighbour's landlord and help out around the property.[129] Shortly before the attacks, Tarrant's mother received a message from him telling her that she was "about to see and read 'the most terrible things' about him".[130]

In a report published by Newshub in April 2020, survivors of the attack claimed that a man that they believe to be Tarrant had visited the Al Noor Mosque three times consecutively during Friday Prayer and pretended to pray with worshippers before the attack.[131] Gamal Fouda, the Imam of the Al Noor Mosque, told Newshub that Tarrant dressed up in traditional Pakistani clothing while inside the mosque, and that he had questioned a person about the scheduling of the Friday Prayer times. Fouda also added that Tarrant "...knew the place like his house." Canterbury Police District Commander Superintendent John Price told Newshub that police have found evidence from CCTV footage that Tarrant's vehicle had been parked across the street from the mosque before 15 March. However, Price also said police found no evidence to support the claim that Tarrant had entered the mosque grounds before the attacks.[131] Instead, Price said that police believe Tarrant had viewed an online tour of Al-Noor as part of his planning.[132]

Weapons

Police recovered five guns at the scene: two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm.[133] According to Police Minister Stuart Nash, one of the firearms used by the gunman was an AR-15 style rifle.[134] Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the gunman held a firearms licence with an "A" endorsement,[135] and he started buying his arsenal in December 2017, a month after acquiring his licence. According to a city gun store, the gunman bought four firearms and ammunition online.[136] The shop stated that none of the four were military-style weapons, and it is not known yet if these guns were the ones used in the attacks. The shop did not detect anything unusual or extraordinary about the customer.[137] Additionally, he illegally[138] replaced the semi-automatic rifles' small, legal magazines with 30-round magazines purchased online.[139][140] According to Stuff, Tarrant was wrongly granted a firearms license due to police failures. Sources said that police failed to interview a family member which was required for obtaining a firearms license, instead interviewing two men that the gunman had met through an online chatroom. In the days after the attack, the police had quashed concerns that Tarrant had obtained the weapons inappropriately. Police have not given comment to this allegation, stating that they do not wish to interfere with the ongoing royal commission of inquiry into the event.[141]

The guns and magazines used were covered in white writing naming historical events, people, and motifs related to historical conflicts, wars, and battles between Muslims and European Christians,[49][123][142][143] as well as the names of recent Islamic terrorist attack victims and the names of far-right attackers.[144] The markings also included references to "Turkofagos" (Turk eater), a term used by Greeks during the Greek War of Independence and white supremacist slogans such as the anti-Muslim phrase "Remove Kebab" that originated from Serbia and the Fourteen Words.[49][142][143] Apart from the Latin alphabet, writings on the weaponry were in the Cyrillic, Armenian and Georgian alphabets.[142] The writings were names dedicated to historic individuals that fought against Muslim forces. On his pack was a Black Sun patch, and two dog tags: one with a Celtic cross, and one with a Slavic swastika design.[145] Police also found two improvised explosive devices attached to a car; these were defused by the New Zealand Defence Force.[146] No explosives were found on the gunman.[147]

Manifesto

Tarrant claims to be the author of a 74-page manifesto titled "The Great Replacement", a reference to the "Great Replacement" and "white genocide" conspiracy theories.[148][149] It said that the attacks were planned two years prior, and the location was selected three months prior.[150] Minutes before the attacks began, the manifesto was emailed to more than 30 recipients, including the prime minister's office and several media outlets,[151] and links were shared on Twitter and 8chan.[152][153]

In the manifesto several anti-immigrant sentiments are expressed, including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for all non-European immigrants in Europe who are claimed to be "invading his land" to be removed.[154] The manifesto displays neo-Nazi symbols such as the Black Sun and the Odin's cross. However, the author denies being a Nazi,[155] describing himself instead as an "ethno-nationalist",[123][156][157] an "eco-fascist",[158][159][160][161] and a "kebab removalist", in reference to a meme exalting the genocide of Bosnian Muslims that occurred during the Bosnian War.[162] The author cites Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and others as an inspiration. He says he supports U.S. president Donald Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose", but not as "a policy maker and leader".[154] The author says he originally targeted the Al Huda Mosque in Dunedin, but changed his mind after visiting Christchurch, because the Christchurch mosques contained "more adults and a prior history of extremism".[163][164]

The manifesto was described by some media outlets as "shitposting"—trolling designed to engender conflict between certain groups and people.[165][166][167] Readers of the manifesto described it as containing deliberately provocative and absurd statements, such as sarcastically claiming to have been turned into a killer by playing violent video games.[168][169][170] On 23 March 2019, the manifesto was deemed "objectionable" by the Chief Censor of New Zealand, making it unlawful to possess or distribute it in New Zealand.[171] In August 2019, The New Zealand Herald reported that printed copies of the manifesto were being sold online outside New Zealand, something New Zealand law could not prevent.[172]

Legal proceedings

Tarrant appeared in the Christchurch District Court on 16 March, where he was charged with one count of murder.[173] The judge ordered the courtroom closed to the public except for accredited media, and allowed the accused to be filmed and photographed on the condition that his face be pixellated.[174] In court, Tarrant smiled at reporters and made an inverted OK gesture below his waist, said to be a "white power" sign.[175]

The case was transferred to the High Court and he was remanded in custody, as his lawyer did not seek bail.[176] He was subsequently transferred to the country's only maximum-security unit at Auckland Prison.[177] He has lodged a formal complaint regarding his prison conditions, on the grounds that he has no access to newspapers, television, Internet, visitors or phone calls.[178] On 4 April, police announced they had increased the total number of charges to 89, 50 for murder and 39 for attempted murder, with other charges still under consideration.[179] At the next hearing on 5 April, he was ordered by the judge to undergo a psychiatric assessment of his mental fitness to stand trial.[180]

On 21 May 2019, Commissioner Bush announced that a new charge of engaging in a terrorist act had been laid against Tarrant under section 6A of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. One murder charge and one attempted murder charge were also added, bringing the total to 51 and 40 respectively.[181]

On 14 June 2019, Tarrant appeared at the Christchurch High Court via audio-visual link from Auckland Prison. Through his lawyer, he pleaded not guilty to engaging in a terrorist act, 51 counts of murder, and 40 counts of attempted murder. Mental health assessments had indicated no issues regarding his fitness to plead or stand trial. The trial start date was set for 4 May 2020; the Crown prosecutor estimated the trial would last around six weeks.[21] On 12 September 2019, the trial date was pushed back to 2 June 2020, to avoid coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.[182]

On 14 August 2019, it was reported that Tarrant had been able to send seven letters from prison, two to his mother and five to unnamed recipients. One of these letters was subsequently posted on the Internet message boards 4chan and 8chan by a recipient. Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis and the Department of Corrections were criticised for allowing the distribution of these letters.[183][184][185] On 19 August, Prime Minister Ardern announced that the Government would explore amending the Corrections Act 2004 to further restrict what mail can be received and sent by prisoners.[186][187]

On 26 March 2020, Tarrant appeared at the Christchurch High Court via audio-visual link from Auckland Prison. During the appearance, he pleaded guilty to all 92 charges: one of engaging in a terrorist act, 51 of murder, and 40 of attempted murder. Due to the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the general public was barred from the hearing; however, media representatives and representatives for the Al-Noor and Linwood mosques were present in the courtroom.[188] According to media reports, Tarrant's lawyers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson had informed the courts that Tarrant was considering changing his plea. On 25 March, Tarrant issued his lawyers with formal written instructions confirming that he wanted to change his pleas to guilty. In response, court authorities began making arrangements for the case to be called as soon as possible in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown.[189][190]

The judge convicted Tarrant on all charges and remanded him in custody until a nominal date of 1 May. Sentencing will take place on 24 August 2020.[191][23] Having been convicted for murder involving multiple deaths, Tarrant faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole being granted after 17 years (unless in the circumstances such a sentence would be manifestly unjust). The sentencing judge may, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating factors of the offence, extend the non-parole period or impose life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.[192][193]:102–4 Prior to the shootings, the longest non-parole period imposed for murder in New Zealand has been 30 years; no person has ever been sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.[194]

On 10 July, the Government announced that overseas-based victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings would receive special border passes and financial help in order to fly to New Zealand for the duration of Tarrant's sentencing, which begins on 24 August.[195] On 13 July, it was reported that Tarrant had dismissed his lawyers and would be representing himself during sentencing proceedings, which commence on 24 August.[196][197]

Aftermath

Emergency services response

In April 2019, police released a final timeline of the event.[198] It stated that police were at the first scene within minutes of the incident being reported at 1:41 p.m.[8] It was initially understood that the arrest had taken 36 minutes, but it was later clarified that it had taken 18 minutes.[8][199] In response to criticism that police were too slow to react, District Commander John Price said: "That is an incredibly fast response time. You had a mobile offender across a large metropolitan city."[200]

St. John Ambulance sent 20 ambulances and other vehicles to the mosques.[201] Most of the wounded were taken to Christchurch Hospital. Forty-eight people with gunshot wounds, including young children, were treated at the hospital,[202][203] with some taken to other hospitals within Christchurch and nationally.[204] Canterbury District Health Board activated its mass-casualty plan.[202] Paramedics describe a 'river of blood' coming out of the mosque[205] and having to step over bodies to collect the wounded.[206]

Police advised all mosques in the country to close until further notice, and sent officers to secure various sites in Christchurch.[207] All Air New Zealand Link services departing from Christchurch Airport were cancelled as a precaution, due to the absence of security screening at the regional terminal.[208][209] Security was increased at Parliament, and public tours of the buildings were cancelled.[210] In Dunedin, the Armed Offenders Squad searched a house, later reported to have been rented by the gunman,[211][212] and cordoned off part of the surrounding street in Andersons Bay because Tarrant had indicated on social media that he had originally planned to target the Al Huda Mosque in that city.[213][214]

Governmental response

For the first time in New Zealand history, the terrorism threat level was raised to high.[215] Prime Minister Ardern called the incident an "act of extreme and unprecedented violence" on "one of New Zealand's darkest days".[216][217][218] She described it as a "well-planned" terrorist attack.[204] She said she would render the person accused of the attacks "nameless" and urged the public to speak the victims' names instead.[219] A meeting of the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination was convened to coordinate the government's response.[220] Ardern, who had just left a school climate-strike rally in New Plymouth,[221] returned to her hotel along with the Minister for Security and Intelligence, Andrew Little, to give a press statement. Ardern cancelled her remaining public engagements scheduled for that day, including opening the WOMAD international arts festival.[222] She then boarded an RNZAF plane to fly to Wellington to join official meetings taking place at the Beehive.[223] Ardern issued a directive that flags on "all Government and public buildings" should be flown at half-mast until further notice.[224]

Cabinet agreed to hold an inquiry into the attacks, and announced on 25 March that it would take the form of a royal commission of inquiry.[31] Little told Radio New Zealand, "I have given authority to the agencies to do intrusive activities under warrant, the number of those (warrants) I’m not at liberty to disclose."[225] He said that the intelligence services usually put 30 to 40 people under monitoring at a time. Although more people than usual were being monitored, he was not willing to reveal how many. He also stated that the operations could be anything from physical surveillance to watching telecommunications activity.[226]

On 8 April 2019, Prime Minister Ardern confirmed the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry, and announced that Supreme Court justice Sir William Young would chair the inquiry.[227]

In May 2019 the NZ Transport Authority offered to replace any vehicle number plates with the prefix "GUN" (issued in 2013) on request, although they were not withdrawn.[228]

In mid-October 2019, Prime Minister Ardern awarded bravery awards to the two police officers who had apprehended the shooter Tarrant at the annual Police Association Conference in Wellington. Due to the legal proceedings against Tarrant, the two officers had interim name suppression, but in December 2019 this was lifted.[229][230][231]

Other responses in New Zealand

A woman adds a flower arrangement to a large memorial display set against a fence.
Patsy Reddy laying flowers at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on 19 March

Within an hour of the attack, all schools in the city were placed in "lockdown".[232][233] A ministry report launched after the attacks stated that schools' handling of the events were varied: Some schoolchildren in lockdown still had their mobile phones and some were able to view the footage of the first attack online, meanwhile some schools had children "commando crawl" to the bathroom under teacher supervision.[234][235] Student climate strikers at the global School Strike for the Climate rally in Cathedral Square, near the sites of the attacks, were advised by police either to seek refuge in public buildings or go home.[236][237] The citywide lockdown lasted nearly 3 hours.[234]

In response to security concerns, the University of Otago postponed its sesquicentennial street parade which had been scheduled for 16 March.[213][214]

The third test-cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh, scheduled to commence at Hagley Oval in Hagley Park on 16 March, was likewise cancelled due to security concerns.[238] The Bangladesh team were planning to attend Friday prayer at the Al Noor Mosque, and were moments from entering the building when the incident began.[239][240] The players then fled on foot to Hagley Oval.[241] Two days later, Canterbury withdrew from their match against Wellington in the Plunket Shield cricket tournament.[242] Likewise the Super Rugby match between the Crusaders, based in Christchurch, and Highlanders, based in Dunedin, due to be played the next day was cancelled as "a mark of respect for the events".[243] After the attacks, there were renewed calls to rename the Crusaders team, since its name derives from the medieval Crusades against Muslims.[244][245]

Vigil in Wellington for the victims of the attack

Two concerts scheduled to be held in Christchurch on 17 March—by singer-songwriter Bryan Adams and the thrash-metal band Slayer—were also cancelled.[246] The Polynesian cultural festival Polyfest was cancelled after the shootings, with security concerns cited as the reason.[247] The music and cultural festival WOMAD went ahead in New Plymouth despite the attacks, with armed police stationed around the festival perimeter, inside the event, and outside artists' hotels.[248]

The mosques involved in the attacks, and others around the country and the world, became the focus of vigils, messages, and floral tributes.[249][250][251][252] The mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, encouraged people to lay flowers outside the city's Botanic Gardens.[253] As a mark of sympathy and solidarity, school pupils and other groups performed haka and waiata to honour those killed in the attacks.[254][255] Street gangs including the Mongrel Mob, Black Power, and the King Cobras sent members to mosques around the country to help protect them during prayer time.[256][257][258] One week after the attacks, an open-air Friday prayer service was held in Hagley Park. Broadcast nationally on radio and television, it was attended by 20,000 people, including Ardern,[259][260][261] who said "New Zealand mourns with you. We are one." The imam of the Al Noor Mosque thanked New Zealanders for their support and added, "We are broken-hearted but we are not broken."[262] A national remembrance service was held on 29 March, a fortnight after the attacks.[263]

Shortly after the attack, New Zealand Police launched Operation Whakahaumanu. The operation was designed to reassure New Zealanders after the attack and to also investigate possible threats who shared a similar ideology to the gunman. Police increased visibility in streets and visited many schools, businesses, and religious places as part of the operation. In Canterbury alone, there were almost 600 people of interest to police, where hundreds of properties were searched. On 14 July 2020, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) deemed three of these searches to be unlawful.[264]

Fundraisers and philanthropy

An online fundraiser on the fundraising website "Givealittle" started to support victims and their families had, as of 20 March 2019, raised over NZ$6.7 million.[265][266] Counting other fundraisers, a combined total of $8.4 million had been raised for the victims and their families (as of 20 March 2019).[267] Prime Minister Ardern reiterated that those injured or killed in the shootings and their immediate families are covered by the country's accident-compensation scheme, ACC, which offers compensation for lost income and a $10,000 funeral grant, among other benefits.[268][269]

In late June, it was reported that the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh had raised more than NZ$967,500 (US$650,000) through its New Zealand Islamophobia Attack Fund for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings. This amount included $60,000 raised by Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation. These funds will be donated to the Christchurch Foundation, a registered charity which has been receiving money to support victims of the Christchurch shootings. This philanthropy was inspired by local Muslim support for the Pittsburgh Jewish community following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in late October 2018.[270][271][272]

Global response

Vigil in Melbourne, Australia

On 15 May 2019, Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron co-hosted the Christchurch Call summit in Paris,[273][274] which called for major technology companies to step up their efforts to combat violent extremism.[275] The accord's founding signatory nations were Australia, Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In addition, the technology companies Amazon, DailyMotion, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter and YouTube also signed.[276]

Related arrests and incidents

Police arrested four people on 15 March in relation to the attacks,[277][232][215] including a woman and a man, after finding a firearm in a vehicle in which they were travelling together.[278] The woman was released uncharged, but the man was held in custody and was charged with a firearms offence.[279] Additionally, a 30-year-old man said he was arrested when he arrived, unarmed, at Papanui High School to pick up his 13-year-old brother-in-law. He was in camouflage clothing, which he said he habitually wore.[280] He said police gave him a verbal warning for disorderly behaviour.[281] He is seeking compensation for a wrongful arrest. The actions were defended by police, who mentioned the threat level after the massacre and that they had to deal with reports possibly related to the attacks.[280]

On 18 March 2019, the Australian Federal Police's NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team conducted raids on the homes of suspected gunman's sister and mother near Coffs Harbour and Maclean in New South Wales. These raids were carried out by Australian Police to assist New Zealand Police with their investigation into the shootings. The gunman's sister and mother reportedly cooperated with Australian police.[282][283]

A 24-year-old man from Oldham, Greater Manchester, United Kingdom was arrested on 16 March for sending Facebook posts in support of the shootings.[284][285]

On 20 March, an employee for Transguard, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, was fired by his company and deported for making comments supporting the shootings.[286][287]

In Canada, neo-Nazis Paul Fromm and Kevin Goudreau were put under investigation after the former shared the shooter's manifesto on the website of his organisation Canadian Association for Free Expression.[288][289]

A 22-year-old self-described "Folk Odinist" and founder of a Facebook group known as Odin's Warriors, Thomas Alan Bolin, and his cousin Austin Witkowski attempted to commit a copycat attack in Baltimore, Maryland. Under the aliases "Peter Vincent" and "Ragnar Odinson", the duo sent threatening messages on Facebook Messenger and planned to buy food, ammunition, and firearms in preparation for a similar attack. Bolin also praised the shooter's live-stream and manifesto, saying "Brugh dude killed 40 Muslims". Bolin was later convicted of lying to the FBI for claiming he did not possess any firearms.[290]

Nine days after the attack came the Escondido mosque fire. Police found graffiti on the mosque's driveway that referenced the Christchurch shootings, leading them to investigate the fire as a terrorist attack.[291][292] The Poway synagogue shooting took place on 27 April 2019, killing one person and injuring three others. The suspect, John T. Earnest, claimed responsibility for the fire and praised the Christchurch shootings in a manifesto. He and Tarrant were said to have been radicalized on 8chan's /pol/ discussion board.[293]

On 3 August 2019, Patrick Crusius killed 22 people and injured 24 others in a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In a manifesto posted to 8chan's /pol/ board, he expressed support for and inspiration from the Christchurch mosque shootings.[294][295]

On 10 August 2019, Philip Manshaus tried to attack a mosque in Bærum, Norway, and livestream it on Facebook. He referred to Tarrant as a saint online and posted an image depicting Tarrant, Crusius, and Earnest as "heroes".[296]

Reactions

World leaders

A photo of a woman from the waist up, hands clasped in front of her, with a sad facial expression. She is wearing a black dress and scarf with gold trim.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited members of the Muslim community at the Phillipstown Community Hub in Christchurch the day after the attack.

Queen Elizabeth II, New Zealand's head of state, said she was "deeply saddened" by the attacks.[297][298] Other politicians and world leaders also condemned the attacks,[28][note 1] with some attributing them to rising Islamophobia.[335][336] The prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, announced that Pakistani emigrant Naeem Rashid, who charged at the gunman and died as a result of the attack on the Al Noor Mosque, would be posthumously honoured with a national award for his courage.[337] The prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, announced that "In the future, whenever we send our cricket team abroad, we will do that after examining and reviewing the security matters of the host countries" and added that Bangladesh had always provided highest security to visiting foreign teams.[338] Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić condemned the Christchurch attack and said that the shooter "has nothing to do with Serbia."[339] Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić criticized media for implying that Serbs should be blamed for the shootings.[121]

The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, showed footage taken by Tarrant to his supporters at campaign rallies for upcoming local elections.[340][341] The New Zealand and Australian governments,[342] as well as Turkey's main opposition party, criticised his actions.[343] U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible massacre".[344] When asked after the attacks if he thought white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, Trump replied "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It's certainly a terrible thing."[345]

Far-right

Two New Zealand-based anti-immigration groups, the Dominion Movement and the New Zealand National Front, quickly condemned the attacks, distanced themselves from the perpetrator, and shut their websites down.[346] However, the broader far-right culture celebrated the attacks and "sanctified" Tarrant as a central figure in it.[347] Tarrant's manifesto was translated and distributed in more than a dozen different languages,[347] and a number of supporters on 8chan made photo and video edits of the shooting.[162][348] Some extremists were inspired by Tarrant, praised him as a "saint" online and also committed violent incidents and deadly attacks of their own, such as those which occurred in Poway, El Paso, and Bærum.[347] The United Kingdom's domestic intelligence service, MI5, launched an inquiry into the gunman's possible links to the British far right.[349]

Islamic groups

Ahmed Bhamji, chair of the largest mosque in New Zealand,[350] spoke at a rally on 23 March in front of one thousand people.[351][352] He claimed that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, was behind the attack. The claim has been widely described as an unfounded, antisemitic conspiracy theory. The chairman of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand said that Bhamji's statement did not represent other New Zealand Muslims, but Bhamji defended his statements.[350][351][353]

Sri Lankan Defence Ministry

According to Sri Lankan State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, an early inquiry indicated that the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings on 21 April 2019 were retaliation for the Christchurch attack.[354][355][356][357] However, some analysts believe the attacks to have been planned before the Christchurch attack,[358][359] and any linkage was questioned by New Zealand's government - with Prime Minister Ardern saying she was not aware of any intelligence linking the two.[360]

Video distribution

Copies of the live-streamed video were reposted on many platforms and file-sharing websites, including Facebook,[361] LiveLeak, and YouTube.[362] Police, Muslim-advocacy groups and government agencies urged anyone who found the footage to take it down or report it.[363] The New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification quickly classified the video as "objectionable", making it a criminal offence in the country to distribute, copy, or exhibit the video, with potential penalties of up to 14 years' imprisonment for an individual, or up to $100,000 in fines for a corporation.[364][365][366]

Arrests and prosecutions

At least eight people have been arrested for possessing or sharing the video or manifesto, most of their names have been suppressed either to prevent threats against them or in support of freedom of expression online.[367] An 18-year-old man was arrested and charged with inciting racial disharmony under the Human Rights Act.[368] Although authorities said he was not involved in the shootings,[13] he was denied bail, and faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted on all charges.[369] He appeared in Christchurch District Court on 18 March faced with a charge of distributing the video, and a second charge of making an objectionable publication by posting, between 8 and 15 March, a photo of the Al Noor Mosque bearing the message "target acquired", as well as other chat messages "inciting extreme violence".[370][371]

On 19 March, an Australian man who had posted on social media praising the Christchurch shootings, was indicted on one count of aggravated possession of a firearm without a licence and four counts of using or possessing a prohibited weapon. He was released on bail on the condition that he stay offline.[372][373][374][375]

On 20 March, Christchurch man Philip Arps was indicted on two charges of sharing a live-stream of the mosque shootings under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. He was denied bail and remanded into police custody until his next court appearance, which is scheduled for 15 April. His company also attracted criticism for its use of Nazi symbols.[376][377][378][379] Arps subsequently pleaded guilty to two charges of distributing video footage of the Al Noor attack, one count of sharing the accused live-stream footage to approximately 30 people on Facebook, and requesting that another person add a cross-hair and kill count to the footage. In June 2019, he was sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment.[380][381] On 27 August, Arps' appeal of his sentence was dismissed.[382][383] Arps had also expressed neo-Nazi views and sent letters advocating violence against New Zealand politicians.[384][385] In late January 2020, Arps was released from prison under strict conditions including wearing a GPS electronic monitor, avoiding Muslims and Muslim buildings and prayer rooms, and not owning or touching firearms.[386][387]

On 2 July 2019, a 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty to possessing footage of the Christchurch shootings. Though he was released on bail and ordered to appear at a Family Group Conference on 30 July, he was subsequently returned to prison on 9 July for breaching his bail conditions.[388][389]

On 12 July, a Dunedin man appeared in the Dunedin District Court on the charge of possessing footage of the Christchurch mosque shootings among other charges. He was remanded into police custody.[390]

On 12 February 2020, a Palmerston North man was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for posting footage of the Christchurch shooting on his Facebook page.[391]

On 26 February, a Christchurch man was jailed for nearly two years for doctoring footage of the mosque shootings with a Call of Duty tagline for white supremacist Philip Arps two days after the attacks.[392]

On 4 March 2020, a 19-year old Christchurch man was arrested for allegedly making a terror threat against the Al Noor mosque on an encrypted social media platform, Telegram.[393][394][395] Media reports subsequently identified the man as Sam Brittenden, a member of the white supremacist group Action Zealandia.[396][397]

Media outlets

Several media organisations in Australia and tabloid-news websites in the UK broadcast parts of the video, up to the point the gunman entered the building, despite pleas from the New Zealand Police not to show it.[398][399] Sky Television New Zealand temporarily stopped its syndication of Sky News Australia after that network showed the footage, and said it was working with Sky News Australia to prevent further displays of the video.[400] At least three Internet service providers in New Zealand blocked access to 8chan and other sites related to the attacks,[401] and temporarily blocked other sites hosting the video such as 4chan, LiveLeak, and Mega until they comply with requests to take down copies of the video.[402] The administrator of the online message board Kiwi Farms refused a New Zealand Police request for the data of users who made posts related to Tarrant and the attack.[403][404]

Social media

Social media sites including Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter said they were working diligently to remove the video from their platforms and would also remove anything posted in support of the attacks.[405][406] According to Facebook, no complaints were made about the video until 12 minutes after the live-stream ended;[407] the original video from Tarrant himself had been viewed fewer than 200 times before Facebook was notified of its content, and it had been viewed only 4,000 times before it was removed, which happened within minutes of notification. Facebook created a digital hash fingerprint to detect further uploads, however by this point the video had been propagated on other sites.[408] Facebook said it had blocked 1.5 million uploads of the video and images from it in the day after the attacks, including edited versions, with most blocking occurring through use of the fingerprint to prevent visibility.[408][409] Reddit banned "subreddits" named "WatchPeopleDie" and "Gore", saying threads there had glorified the attacks, in violation of user agreements.[410][411][412] Microsoft, in light of how social media sites handled the content related to the shooting, proposed the establishment of industry-wide standards that would flag such content quickly, and, in the wake of similar major events, operate a joint virtual command center to manage and control the spread of such information via social media.[413]

Despite the networks' attempts to self-police, New Zealand officials and other world leaders have asked them to take responsibility for extremist content posted on their services.[408] Australia introduced legislation that would fine content providers and potentially imprison their executives if they do not remove violent imagery of these types of attacks.[414] The French Council of the Muslim Faith filed a lawsuit against Facebook and YouTube, accusing the companies of "broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism, or of a nature likely to seriously violate human dignity and liable to be seen by a minor".[415] Facebook has contested the lawsuit, stating, "Acts of terror and hate speech have no place on Facebook, and our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the entire community affected by this tragedy. We have taken many steps to remove this video from our platform, we are cooperating with the authorities".[415]

International

Stuart Bender of Curtin University in Perth noted that the use of live video as an integral part of the attacks "makes [them] a form of 'performance crime' where the act of video recording and/or streaming the violence by the perpetrator is a central component of the violence itself, rather than being incidental."[416] Just before carrying out the attacks, the gunman said to-camera, "Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie", referring to the most subscribed YouTuber at the time, Felix Kjellberg, who goes by the alias PewDiePie and who was at the time being accused of using far-right content in his videos.[417][418][419][165][420] In response, Kjellberg tweeted, "Just heard news of the devastating reports from New Zealand Christchurch. I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person. My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected by this tragedy."[418] - and called for the phrase to be discontinued.[421]

Gun laws

Gun laws in New Zealand came under scrutiny in the aftermath, specifically the legality of military-style semi-automatic rifles[422] compared to Australia, which banned them after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.[423] In 2018, for example, it was reported that of the estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, 15,000 were registered Military Style Semi-Automatic weapons as well as perhaps 50,000 and 170,000 unregistered A-Category semi-automatics.[424] As Philip Alpers of GunPolicy.org noted, "New Zealand is almost alone with the United States in not registering 96 percent of its firearms ... one can assume that the ease of obtaining these firearms may have been a factor in his decision to commit the crime in Christchurch."[425][426] Cabinet, however, remains undecided on the creation of a register.[427][428][429]

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced: "Our gun laws will change, now is the time ... People will be seeking change, and I am committed to that."[425] She continued, "There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change."[430] Attorney-General David Parker was later quoted as saying that the government would ban semi-automatic guns,[431] but subsequently backtracked, saying that the government had not yet committed to anything and that regulations around semi-automatic weapons was "one of the issues" the government would consider.[432]

The day after the attacks, some gun-store owners reported an increase in sales, particularly of semi-automatic weapons, in response to the prospect of stricter laws.[433] The New Zealand auction website Trade Me banned the sale of semi-automatic weapons on its platform,[434] and some gun owners responded to the attacks by voluntarily handing in their weapons to police.[435]

At a press conference on 18 March, Ardern said details of the proposed reforms would be given by 25 March.[436] On 21 March, she announced a ban, adding that she was working to have legislation in place as early as 11 April. As a transitional measure, from 3:00 pm that day, some semi-automatic rifles and shotguns were classified as requiring the owner to hold a licence with an "E" endorsement. "After a reasonable period for returns, those who continue to possess these firearms will be in contravention of the law," Radio New Zealand reported. A "gun buy-back" scheme was also considered.[437]

The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act 2019 was introduced in the House of Representatives on 1 April, and passed its first reading the following day.[438] The final reading was passed on 10 April, supported by all parties in Parliament except ACT, and it became law by the end of the week.[439][440][441] All legally obtained semiautomatic and military-grade firearms and their relevant ammunition were able be handed over to police in a buy-back scheme.[442][443][444] On 13 July, the gun buy-back scheme was initiated,[445] where 607 collection points for owners to turn in their prohibited firearms were held.[446] On 20 December, the gun buy-back scheme ended.[447] Provisional data from police as of 21 December showed that a total of 33,619 hand-ins had been completed, 56,250 firearms had been collected (51,342 as buy-back and 4,908 under amnesty), 2,717 firearms has been modified, and 194,245 parts had been collected (187,995 as buy-back and 6,250 under amnesty).[446]

Police Minister Stuart Nash hailed the buy-back scheme as a success,[448] but Nicole McKee, the spokeswoman of the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, said that the buyback had been a failure and claimed that there are 170,000 prohibited guns in New Zealand, so "50,000 is not a number to boast about".[448]

See also

Copyright