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Security agencies too focused on ‘Islamist’ terror in run-up to Christchurch mosques terror attack, inquiry rules

25th Dec 2020
Security agencies too focused on ‘Islamist’ terror in run-up to Christchurch mosques terror attack, inquiry rules

Photos: Students paying tribute to the victims of the Christchurch mosques shooting, March 18, 2019. (Credit: Peter Adones/Anadolu Agency). Right: New Zealand PM, Jacinda Ardern meets with the victims of the shooting.
(Credit: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch Council/CC)

Elham Asaad Buaras

New Zealand’s security agencies were “almost exclusively” fixated on the risk of “Islamist terrorism” and the police had failed to enforce appropriate checks on firearm licenses in the run-up to last year’s Christchurch mosques terror attack, in which a gunman shot dead 51 Muslim worshippers, an inquiry into the terror attack has found.

Royal Commission of Inquiry, which was released on December 8, also concluded that despite the shortcomings, there were no failings within government agencies that would have alerted them to the imminent attack by the white supremacist terrorist.

“Going forward, we need to ensure an adequate focus of resources on the range of threats New Zealand faces and enhance our security and intelligence, and social cohesion work,” said Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. “You and others have made New Zealand your home. You, and every New Zealander, deserve a system that does its best to keep you safe.”

Ardern said she would accept all the recommendations in the report.
Two mass shootings occurred at Masjid An-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday Prayers on March 15, 2019. The gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant, killed 51 people and injured 40.

Before the attack, Tarrant posted multiple troubling references online, was able to obtain a gun licence, and carried out reconnaissance missions to both mosques.

It was also reported Tarrant had accidentally shot himself while cleaning a firearm months before the attack and required treatment in Dunedin for bullet fragments in his eye and leg. At the time, there was no mandatory legislation regarding the reporting of gunshot wounds.

In the wake of the attack, Ardern commissioned the inquiry into why and how the massacre took place, and whether it could have been prevented.
Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the country’s security intelligence service, has been assigned the job of implementing the report’s recommendations, among which is the secrecy surrounding counter-terrorism approaches by successive governments. “One reason for this was to avoid stigmatising Muslims. But had such a strategy been shared with the public and also incorporated a ‘see something, say something’ policy, it is possible that aspects of the individual’s planning may … have been reported,” the report said.

“With the benefit of hindsight, such reporting would have provided the best chance of disrupting the terrorist attack.”

The police commissioner, Andrew Coster, said legislative changes this month will clarify the criteria for determining whether someone was fit to own a firearm.

Rebecca Kitteridge, Director-General of New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), acknowledged there was insufficient focus on right-wing extremists until 2018 but said it was a misconception that Muslim communities were specifically targeted.

Kitteridge also vowed to create a better relationship with the Muslim community.Despite the inappropriate focus on “Islamist extremism,” the report did not conclude the security agencies were Islamophobic. Speaking to The Muslim News Dr Hamimah Tuyan, who lost her husband

Zekeriya Tuyan in the terror attack, said, “Many words will continue to be said and written on this matter by experts in the field. What is important is that the Government has agreed, ‘in principle’, to implement all of the 44 recommendations.

There is an opportunity for the community to have some agency in the ‘restorative justice process.’ We have an empathetic and responsible government, so I trust that they will put the recommendations into action efficaciously.”

Muslim groups have repeatedly said their warnings about threats from white supremacists before the attack had been ignored. The Muslim community told the inquiry that it knew it was “vulnerable” to a terror attack, and that security forces had wrongly focused on terrorism committed by Muslim extremists.

Two weeks before the Commission published its findings, the country’s biggest umbrella Muslim body, the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand (FIANZ), published its submission to the inquiry which said Muslim communities were vulnerable following increasing terror attacks overseas.

In its report to the inquiry, FIANZ stated, ‘We knew we were vulnerable to such an attack. We did not know who, when, what, where or how. But we knew. Our security narrative was true. The NZIC’s official security was inaccurate and misinformed New Zealand.’

The mosque attack highlighted ‘systemic dysfunction’ in some government agencies because they didn’t consider the threat of a terror attack on Muslim communities, it said. FIANZ also pointed to the lack of diversity in the country’s intelligence network.

The federation claimed ‘systemic failures over the decades to recruit, develop, and promote ethnically and religiously diverse staff that reflect the changing demographics, values, experiences and perspectives of Aotearoa New Zealand’ had left the county’s Muslim communities ‘defenceless.’

Two New Zealand-based anti-immigration groups, the Dominion Movement and the New Zealand National Front, quickly condemned the attacks, distanced themselves from the perpetrator, and shut their websites down. However, the broader far-right culture celebrated the attacks and sanctified Tarrant as a central figure. Tarrant’s manifesto was translated and distributed in more than a dozen different languages, and several supporters made photo and video edits of the shooting.

Some far-right extremists were inspired by Tarrant, committing shootings of their own, such as those in Poway synagogue in California, the Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and the Baerum mosque in the suburbs of Oslo. The UK’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, launched an inquiry into Tarrant’s possible links to the British far-right.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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