At least 49 people were killed and 48 injured on Friday at around 1:30 pm (local time) in anti-Muslim terrorist attacks against two mosques in downtown Christchurch, New Zealand. Four suspects have been arrested. The main shooter filmed the attack with GoPro and broadcasted it live to social networks. The video was promptly removed by Facebook at the request of police, but parts of it have been published by local media.
About 300 people were gathered inside two mosques for Friday prayers when the shooters arrived. Shots were fired at Masjid Al Noor Mosque adjacent to Hagley Park, and at Linwood Masjid Mosque in Linwood.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that a number of explosive devices were found in vehicles stopped by police and secured by defense personnel.
Security checks have been tightened at airports. Journalist Ben Strang reported that there were “armed police at Christchurch airport” and bomb-sniffing dogs.
Christchurch is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It was founded in the middle of the 19th century by immigrants from Europe. 377,000 people live in the city and the surrounding area. Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest business and financial center. While most citizens are Christians, there is also a Muslim community of around 5,000 people. In the mid-80s, the city built the two mosques to accommodate them.
Muslims in New Zealand
Muslims make up just over one percent of New Zealand’s population, according to a 2013 census. At the same time, the number of residents practicing Islam has been steadily increasing – since 2006, it has grown by 28 percent. According to forecasts, by 2030, 100,000 Muslims will live in the country.
There are 57 mosques and Islamic cultural centers in the country. The New Zealand Muslim community has at least 100 years of history. According to Dr. Farouk, the President of the Federation of Islamic Associations, New Zealand is considered one of the safest countries for Muslims.
Who committed the terrorist attack?
One of the perpetrators of the attack was identified by the Australian police as Brenton Tarrant. This 28-year-old self-proclaimed “average white man,” was born and raised in Australia.
In his manifesto entitled “The Great Replacement,” Tarrant says he began planning the attack two years ago. The 74-page document espouses a far-right ideology and argues against “non-European” immigration to the West. The author specifically characterizes himself as an ‘eco-fasсist’. The white supremacist writer says that he belongs to no group and will not feel remorse for his actions. Among his social media posts (his accounts have since been deactivated) he notes that he was inspired by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
Answering the question “were you or are you now a conservative?”, Tarrant wrote, “No, conservatism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it.” Describing the arc of his political journey, the killer said: “When I was young I was a communist, then an anarchist and finally a libertarian before coming to be an eco-fascist.”
Criticism of Turkey
In his manifesto, Tarrant called for the murder of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. He explained that an Islamist attack in Stockholm in 2017 pushed him to commit his attack. In the 2017 terrorist attack, five people were killed and 14 were injured. Tarrant singled out the death of 11-year-old Ebba Akerlund, stressing that his actions were taken in revenge for her death.
He also wrote an address to the Turkish people, saying that they can live in peace in their own lands, but if they “attempt to live in European lands, anywhere west of the Bosphorus We will kill you and drive you roaches from our lands.”
“We are coming for Constantinople and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city”, he added in seeming contradiction.
Tarrant had posted several photos of his arsenal of war on a forum before making his way to the mosque. The weapons were covered by the inscriptions referencing famous European battles against Muslims and neo-Nazi slogans. One of the battles referenced is the 1683 Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Empire.
Four people were detained over the killings, including one woman. We know that the second shooter is 20 years old and will also be charged with murder. The police intend to charge all the detainees after interrogations are completed. Police assure that all the suspects involved in the crime are known to police and that there are no further people of interest.
None of the detainees had been on the radars of police or the country’s anti-terrorism units before the attack.
What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) March 15, 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the attacks the “latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”
I strongly condemn the terror attack against the Al Noor Mosque in #NewZealand and Muslim worshippers. May Allah have mercy on the victims and grant a speedy recovery to the wounded.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) March 15, 2019
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Toutes nos pensées pour les victimes des crimes odieux contre les mosquées de Christchurch en Nouvelle-Zélande et pour leurs proches. La France se dresse contre toute forme d’extrémisme et agit avec ses partenaires contre le terrorisme dans le monde.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 15, 2019
It was with horror and profound sadness that I learnt of the terrorist attack on the #ChristchurchMosque. The European Union will always stand with #NewZealand and against those who heinously want to destroy our societies and our way of life. https://t.co/OPLLbRTg2h
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) March 15, 2019