By Lianne Kolirin
The massacre of 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand could not have been prevented, according to a comprehensive report into the atrocity.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch massacre carried out by a white supremacist on 15 March 2019 concluded that “there was no plausible way he could have been detected except by chance”.
Published today, its report — almost 800 pages long — revealed that Brenton Tarrant, who also wounded 40 Muslim worshippers, eluded detection by keeping a low profile and telling nobody of his intentions as he planned his attack.
The report, despite revealing shortcomings of numerous agencies, argues that they could not have acted in time as the only warning was a manifesto emailed by Tarrant, eight minutes before he began shooting.
“Given the operational security that the individual maintained, the legislative authorising environment in which the counter-terrorism effort operates and the limited capability and capacity of the counter-terrorism agencies, there was no plausible way he could have been detected except by chance,” it says.
Nevertheless, the report is likely to prompt some serious soul-searching in the wake of New Zealand’s deadliest terrorist attack.
Among other things, it highlighted failings in the police system for vetting gun licences, and said the nation’s intelligence agencies were too focused on the threat posed by Islamic extremism which led to them overlooking other threats, such as white supremacism.
Survivors and witnesses to the attacks at the city’s Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre told the inquiry of “the ongoing impacts of the terrorist attack, including challenges in obtaining government support”.
The report stated: “Through broader engagement with Muslim communities we learnt about frustrations with the public sector that go back many years. Muslim communities talked candidly about racism, discrimination and experiences of being suspected of being, or treated as, terrorists as well as their fear of being the targets of hate speech, hate crime and terrorism.”
It found that the “focus of the counter-terrorism resources was on what was seen as the presenting threat of Islamist extremist terrorism”, meaning that there was “only a limited understanding of right-wing extremism” in the country.
Among 44 recommendations, the report says that the government should establish a new national intelligence agency, while proposing that the police are trained to better identify and respond to hate crimes. The government also plans to create an ethnic community ministry and a graduate programme for ethnic communities, according to the BBC.
Brenton Tarrant was sentenced to life without parole earlier this year — the first person in New Zealand to receive this punishment.
The white supremacist, who livestreamed the shootings on Facebook, had admitted the murders, as well as 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism.
Prosecutors said Tarrant, then 28, had planned the murders to cause maximum carnage during Friday prayers. He first attacked the Al Noor mosque, before moving on to Linwood. He had planned to attack a third mosque, at Ashburton.
The Australian moved to New Zealand in 2017 and focused on planning his attack.
Less than 30 seconds into his violent outburst at the Al Noor mosque, he returned to his car to pick up another weapon and then re-entered the mosque and resumed firing on those inside. He broadcast the bloody incident on Facebook live via a headcam.
He then drove to the Linwood Islamic Centre where he shot two people outside and then shot at the windows. Someone inside rushed out, picked up one of Tarrant’s guns and saw him off. Police chased him and arrested him.
Within days, prime minister Jacinda Ardern introduced tough gun laws.
Jacinda Ardern said today: “While the commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack, these were failings none the less, and for that, on behalf of the government, I apologise,.”
Abdigani Ali, of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said: “The report shows that institutional prejudice and unconscious bias exists in the government agencies and needs to change.”
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein al-Umari was one of the victims, tweeted: “Justice has been served by the terrorist being in jail and getting life imprisonment with no chance of parole. Now justice will need to be done for the sake of our future generation and safety.”
The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand (IWCNZ) said in a statement that “justice has not been served by the report”, which the council says was severely restricted by its terms of reference. There are multiple areas of evidence that have not been investigated, and questions raised by IWCNZ have been ignored,” a statement added. We find it concerning that the commissioners found systemic failures and an inappropriate concentration of resources towards Islamic terrorism, and yet state that these would not have made a difference to the terrorist being detected prior to the event.”