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Homeland Security

Inquiry Says New Zealand Mosque Attacks Were Unpreventable but Finds Mistakes Were Made

By Phil Mercer December 08, 2020

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologized for failings in the lead-up to the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks, after a royal commission recommended a raft of legislative changes to prevent another massacre in the future.

In March 2019, Brenton Tarrant, a self-confessed white supremacist from Australia, opened fire at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, killing 51 worshippers and wounding another 40.

A royal commission, the nation's highest form of inquiry, examined how the mass shootings took place, and what led to them. It found New Zealand's intelligence services were "almost exclusively" focused on the threat from Islamist terrorism, and the police had failed to enforce proper checks on firearm licenses. It concluded that despite these failures, the attacks were unpreventable.

Tarrant moved to New Zealand in 2017 and was granted a gun license about three months later.

The commission said the attack "was driven by an extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology." Its aim was to "promote chaos and disharmony in New Zealand."

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the commission found no failures within any government agencies that would have allowed the gunman's conspiracy to be detected or stopped.

Her government accepted "in principle" the report's 44 recommendations. They include a new security and intelligence agency, a new counter-terrorism minister and funding for research into extremism that is specific to New Zealand, a South Pacific country of five million people.

"A report that has taken this length of time for an event that was as significant as March 15 (2019) - it is a very comprehensive report, and it does span across a number of areas," Ardern said. "They do not just relate, for instance, our security and intelligence agencies and so it will take some time for us to be able to implement some of the findings. However, some we will be able to move on quite quickly."

Families of the survivors and victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings believe the report's recommendations do not go far enough.

The Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand said in a statement that "justice has not been served by the report," which they say was severely restricted by the terms of reference.

The Royal Commission gathered information from hundreds of interviews, including the gunman, government ministers and senior public servants. Many interviews, including with Prime Minister Ardern, will be suppressed for 30 years. Information from Brenton Tarrant has been permanently classified.

In August this year, Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He admitted to 51 counts of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a terrorism offense.

The judge said his actions were "inhuman," saying he "showed no mercy."

His crimes led to an overhaul of gun ownership in New Zealand.

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