Forty-nine people have been killed and at least 20 wounded when two mosques were attacked earlier today in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A gunman live-streamed the attack on Facebook, filmed on a head-mounted camera. The 17-minute video was shared on social media.
First reports of an attack emerged from the Masjid Al-noor mosque on Deans Avenue in central Christchurch at 1.30pm as prayers began, where it appears that around 30 people were murdered.
A second mosque was attacked in the suburb of Linwood, leaving several more people dead.
A police spokesman confirmed that two other men and one woman were detained nearby and firearms seized. Police also defused “a number of IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] attached to vehicles”, he added.
One of suspects has been named as Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, and the video of the attack was streamed on his Facebook account. He had also posted photos on Twitter of weapons. Both accounts have been suspended.
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Prime Minister Jacinda Arden told reporters: “It’s clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack”.
“This will be one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
Brenton Tarrant posted a so-called manifesto online before he carried out the killing.
“If there’s one thing I want you to remember from these writings,” the introduction reads, it’s that birth-rates must change”.
He then poses a series of questions beginning with “who are you?”. He responds that he is white and was born in Australia to Scottish, Irish and English parents. He then admits that he didn’t do well at school and did not go to university.
“More recently I have been working part time as a kebab removalist,” he adds, a coded reference to a meme on the internet forum 4chan about Serbian attacks on Bosnian Muslims.
He continues: we must “show the invaders that out lands will never be their lands”.
He cites the 2017 killing of a 12-year-old Swedish girl, Ebba Akkerlund, by Rakhmat Akilov, an asylum seeker from Uzbekistan, as justification for a “violent attack”.
The so-called manifesto ends with a call to arms: “Europa arises”.
It reads similarly in style, albeit in compressed form, to the 1,500 page long “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, produced by far-right terrorist Anders Breivik’s rationalisation for killing 77 people in Norway in 2011.
But whereas Breivik was a genuine “lone wolf” terrorist with no accomplices, Tarrant did not work alone.
He admits that New Zealand was not originally intended to be the site of an attack that appeared to have been years in the making. But after arriving in New Zealand around three months ago, he had something of a revelation: “An attack in New Zealand would bring to attention the truth of the assault on our civilisation, that nowhere in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands”.
Who changed his mind? We can only speculate, but the multiple arrests indicate that Tarrant was operating within a terrorist cell and that he had found compadres sympathetic to his views.
So how did they slip through the net? David Fisher, a senior writer at the New Zealand Herald, notes that “pre-September 11 NZSIS (the New Zealand Security Service)” files show “huge attention to neo-Nazi, far right groups”.
The security services now face serious questions given that they do not lack funding or staff numbers (almost double six years ago). They are also empowered in law with a freewheeling brief to investigate new threats.
There will be time for reflection on the emerging threat of terrorism inspired by far-right ideology both in the West and around the world. But for now, I would like to remind readers of the American comedian Jon Stewart’s comments on the first edition of The Daily Show after 9/11:
“You know, all this talk about “These guys are criminal masterminds. They’ve – they’ve gotten together and their extraordinary guile…and their wit and their skill”. It’s a lie. Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policemen and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets rebuilding. That, that – that is – that’s extraordinary. That’s why we’ve already won. It’s light. It’s democracy. We’ve already won. They can’t shut that down. They live in chaos and chaos… it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy and it’s too unsatisfying.
“The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center and now it’s gone. They attacked it. This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce and it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty”.