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Christchurch terror attacks: What you need to know

A 28-year-old man suspected to be behind Friday’s deadly terror attacks against the Muslim community in Christchurch appeared briefly in court on Saturday, where he faced one charge of murder, with the expectation of more similar charges to come.

The shooting attacks at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday killed 49 people and injured at least 48, making it the deadliest attack in New Zealand’s modern history. It sparked horror and dismay around the world and prompted international leaders to denounce the Islamophobic violence.

What happened

  • On Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, a shooter entered the Al Noor Mosque and opened fire with multiple weapons, killing 41 people.
  • Around the same time a shooter or shooters also opened fire at the nearby Linwood Mosque, killing eight others.
  • Shortly afterward a livestream video of the attack spread around the world through social media, as Facebook and Twitter worked to remove the video from their platforms.
  • Police arrested four individuals in the attacks’ immediate aftermath. One was eventually released, one has been charged with murder, and two remain in custody.
  • Police also said they had found explosive devices at one mosque, which they secured and detonated.
  • They warned people not to go anywhere near mosques in the country.

A man with his face pixelated out appears in court escorted by police (Reuters/M. Mitchell)

The suspect flashed an upside-down ‘OK’ signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe, in court Saturday

Suspect details emerge

  • Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspect, has been charged with murder.
  • Before the attacks, Tarrant posted a 74-page manifesto on social media. In it, he identified himself as a white supremacist and a fascist and said he wanted to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
  • Tarrant had legally purchased the weapons used in the attack, which included two semi-automatic rifles.
  • He had traveled around the world and lived sporadically in Dunedin, a town outside of Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference.
  • The Australian government has confirmed the suspect is an Australian citizen.
  • Australian police said the suspect had only been known to them for “minor traffic matters,” and he had not been on the intelligence community’s radar.

Read more: Dylan Thomas’ most famous poem misused in NZ terrorist’s manifesto

  • Bloodied bandages on the road following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    ‘There was blood everywhere’

    A witness said “there was blood everywhere,” after a right-wing terror attack on two New Zealand mosques killed 49 on Friday. Another witness saw a man in black enter the Al Noor mosque during prayers in Christchurch and heard dozens of shots before fleeing, adding that he saw several dead on the scene. As of Friday afternoon 48 people, including children, were being treated with gunshot wounds. 

  • A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    Twin attacks target two mosques

    Police asked all mosques across New Zealand to close while they hunted the shooter(s) in the twin attacks. Al Noor mosque (above) is approximately seven kilometers across the city from Linwood mosque, the site of the second shooting.

  • A police officer responds following shooting at Linwood in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019, in this still image obtained from a social media video.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    City on lockdown as police hunt suspects

    Police initially arrested four people, two of them armed, and later charged one with murder. An Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, filmed himself carrying out the shooting and streamed it on social media along with a “manifesto” before the attack. In it, he praised other white men who carried out similar massacres. He also praised US President Donald Trump as a “symbol of renenwed white identity.”

  • AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand,, March 15, 2019

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    ‘Atmosphere of fear’

    Police secured the scene. Tarrant’s stated aim was to “create an atmosphere of fear” and “incite violence” against Muslims. Police said they recovered several guns from the mosques and two explosive devices in two vehicles at the scene. While the suspects were unknown to police, they said the attack appeared to have been well planned. Police were not searching for other suspects, but were on alert

  • A police officer stands gurad during Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, providing extra security after the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 15, 2019.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    Narrow escape as shock spreads

    The world reacted in shock on Friday. Anger spread in some countries and security was heightened at prayers at this mosque in Bangladesh as news was released that the Bangladeshi cricket team had narrowly escaped the shooting. The players had arrived at one of the mosques as the attack was unfolding when they heard gunshots.

  • New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    ‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’

    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as terrorism, calling it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” “Many directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here…They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not,” she said.

  • Palestinians perform funeral prayer in absentia for those who lost their lives during twin terror attacks in New Zealand mosques after performing Friday prayer at Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem on March 15, 2019.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    World in mourning

    Friday sermons across the world were dominated by grief and prayers for the lives lost in the attack. Prayers at Al Aqsa mosque in Jersalem (here) mourned the victims. Demonstrations in other major cities such as Sydney, Istanbul and London condemned global terror.

  • Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the media outside New Zealand House, following Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in London, Britain March 15, 2019.

    Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

    Dismay at ‘senseless violence’

    Leaders across the world expressed solidarity with the victims and their families, as did Jeremy Corbyn outside New Zealand House in London. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity against “racist hatred,” and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called it an “attack on all of us.” Queen Elizabeth II was “deeply saddened;” other leaders expressed outrage at the effects of racist hate speech.

    Author: Tom Allinson


World responds

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the shootings “can now only be described as a terrorist attack” and called it one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.” She also vowed to reform the country’s relaxed gun laws.

US President Donald Trump, who was referred to as “a symbol of renewed white identity” in the suspected attacker’s manifesto, described the tragedy as a “horrible massacre” and expressed solidarity with New Zealand, while simultaneously downplaying the threat of rising white nationalism around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the shootings were not only an attack on Muslims, but also on New Zealand’s tolerant society: “We share these values with New Zealand and we share their horror and condemnation of this attack.”

Both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attacks and cited rising Islamophobia around the world.

Condolences and condemnation were expressed by Catholic leader Pope Francis, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, British Prime Minister Theresa May and the UN Security Council, among others.

A woman holds a candle amid a group of people holding signs against Islamophobia (Reuters/C. Helgren)

Mourners in Toronto, Canada, held a vigil for the victims of the mosque attacks

New Zealand: Open to immigrants

The victims in the attack were of many different nationalities, with people from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey among the missing, injured or dead.

New Zealand is generally considered to be welcoming to refugees and immigrants. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would increase its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020.

Former DW correspondent Claire Richardson tweeted that a memorial paying tribute to the victims and expressing solidarity with Muslim communities had sprung up in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Gun laws 

Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand, a country of around 5 million people, though there are an estimated 1.5 million guns in the country, or one for every third person.

New Zealand tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic weapons in 1992. However, anyone over 16 can apply for a firearms license, which lasts for 10 years after a background check and completion of a safety course. Most guns do not require registration.

cmb/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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