What we know so far about the Christchurch mosque attack suspect
Issued on: Modified:
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the suspect in an attack that left 49 dead and 40 wounded at two Christchurch mosques on Friday is an Australian national who travelled around the world and was not a long-term resident in New Zealand.
“The offender was in possession of a gun licence. I’m advised that this was acquired in November of 2017,” she said, saying the suspect also had a small arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. “I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change.”
Bulgaria's chief prosecutor said his country launched a probe on Friday into a November 2018 visit by the suspect. A Turkish offcial said Ankara had also opened an inquiry after it emerged the man had made several visits to Turkey.
In a manifesto he left behind, the suspected gunman described himself as a 28-year-old Australian and sought to make clear that he was a white nationalist who hates immigrants, that he wanted revenge over attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslim assailants and that he wanted to create fear.
Though he claimed not to covet fame, the man whose name was not immediately released by police left behind a 74-page document posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant in which he said he hoped to survive the attack to better spread his views in the media.
He also livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his assault on the worshippers at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque.
That rampage killed at least 41 people, while an attack on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more.
While his manifesto and video were a clear ploy for infamy, they do contain important clues for a public trying to understand why anyone would target dozens of innocent people who were simply spending an afternoon engaged in prayer.
#NewZealand attacker: "There's a fine line between explaining who this individual is without propogating his racist, islamophobic views"@ADAMPLOW, France correspondent for @AFP #WorldThisWeek pic.twitter.com/7WlZrknTopThe Debate – France 24 (@F24Debate) March 15, 2019
There could be no more perplexing a setting for a mass slaughter than New Zealand, a nation so placid and so isolated from the mass shootings that plague the US that police officers rarely carry guns.
Yet the suspect himself highlighted New Zealand’s remoteness as a reason he chose it. He wrote that an attack in New Zealand would show that no place on earth was safe and that even a country as far away as New Zealand is subject to mass immigration.
He said he grew up in a working-class Australian family, had a typical childhood and was a poor student. A woman who said she was a colleague of his when he worked as a personal trainer in the Australian city of Grafton said she was shocked by the allegations against him.
“I can’t ... believe that somebody I’ve probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” Tracey Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The rambling manifesto is filled with confusing and seemingly contradictory assertions about his beliefs.
Beyond his white nationalistic views, he claimed to be an environmentalist and said he is a fascist who believes China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values. He said he has contempt for the wealthiest one percent. And he singled out American conservative commentator Candace Owens as the person who had influenced him the most, while saying, “The extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes.”
In a tweet, Owens responded by saying that if the media portrayed her as the inspiration for the attack, it had better hire lawyers.
The manifesto also included a single reference to US President Donald Trump in which the author asked and answered the question of whether he was a Trump supporter: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”
Throughout the manifesto, the theme he returns to most often is conflict between people of European descent and Muslims, often framing it in terms of the Crusades.
Among his hate-filled statements is a claim that he was motivated towards violence by an episode that occurred in 2017 while he was touring through Western Europe. That was when an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five.
He said his desire for violence grew when he arrived in France, where he said he was offended by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns he visited.
Three months ago, he said, he started planning to target Christchurch. He said he has donated to many nationalist groups, but claimed not to be a direct member of any organisation.
The suspected gunman rambled on about the supposed aims for the attack, which included reducing immigration by intimidating immigrants and driving a wedge between NATO and the Turkish people. He also said he hoped to further polarise and destabilise the West, and spark a civil war in the United States that would ultimately result in a separation of races.
The attack has had the opposite impact, with condemnation of the bloodshed pouring in from all quarters of the globe, and calls for unity against hatred and violence.
The Christchurch suspect's manifesto also used various hate symbols associated with the Nazis and white supremacy.
The victims, he wrote, were chosen because he saw them as invaders who would replace the white race. He predicted he would feel no remorse for their deaths.
The scene of carnage left on Friday shocked the nation, and the world. It was, in the words of PM Ardern, “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)