Terrorist attack in New Zealand

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The terrorist attack on two mosques in the New Zealand south island city of Christchurch was unprecedented. A mass killing at Aramoana in 1990 that left 14 dead was initially an incident between neighbours disputing trespass by a dog. There was no link to terrorism or extremism but the incident did prompt the formulation on 1992 of the extremely strict controls that New Zealand has on the ownership by private citizens of all types of firearm. At the time of writing there are 49 dead and 48 others with gunshot injuries some of them life-threatening. One man is in custody and charged with murder and will appear in court in the morning NZ time. Two other men and a woman were also arrested in the immediate aftermath but it is unclear as to their involvement in the incident. Two Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) were found attached to vehicles associated with the incident and made safe. None of those in custody was previously known to the police or the domestic intelligence services. None were on a watch list.

Twelve hours after the incident ended there is little that is clear, but the motivation for the attack is crystal clear – Islamophobia. The murderer was able to not only post his hate-filled manifesto online for all to see and read, he live-streamed the attack to hundreds of his followers who cheered him on, many of them New Zealanders. He wanted to kill as many Muslims as he could and the killer, Australian by birth, chose New Zealand because he knew that international media would give blanket prominence to his actions, so unusual were they for a usually peaceful society. The internet confers immortality on virtually everything that is posted there, and despite the efforts of social media platforms copies of the manifesto and the live-stream of mass murder are still available for those that care to look for them. We would urge you not to seek either, nor to share them if you do.

The NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference referred to a ‘terrorist attack’ which it certainly was, and also said that those that perpetrated it were ‘not one of us.’ We beg to differ. The killer and his associates were very much ‘one of us’ and in interviews with international news channels regional analysts with detailed knowledge of the area have identified Christchurch as a focal point for extreme right-wing, white supremacist, Islamophobic and generally racist groups and individuals, citing street harassment and occasional violent attacks, sometimes with a blunt instrument. The killer did not exist in isolation, he had friends and acquaintances who shared his ideology, people that supplied weapons – and he was not on the radar and here is where to shine a light.

Post to 9/11 the world’s intelligence and security agencies have concentrated their efforts and investigations primarily on extremism and terrorism having roots in the Muslim world. They are undeniably right to do so, but the last decade has seen the rise and rise of right-wing extremism globally, and this is exactly the ball from which eyes have been taken off, or quite possibly blind eyes turned as nationalist and extreme groups mainstream themselves. Islamophobia is an embedded reality and finds itself gaining political traction, certainly in Australia from where the killer originates. Its existence in New Zealand should come as no surprise and in that context the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch today should come as no surprise either – and may well serve as the spur for other similar attacks elsewhere in the world. Far from being ‘not of us’ Brenton Tarrant has gained instant access to boundless notoriety and most certainly is ‘of us.’ Questions will be answered and clarity – some of it – will emerge in coming days and weeks. There will be investigations, evidence and a trial down the line, but one thing is certain – New Zealand is never going to be the same country again. The horror…the horror…