Memorial service held for Christchurch attack victims – NZ mosque attacks

  • 28 Mar 2019

Representatives from all over the world attend the event to honour 50 victims of March 15 terror attack on two mosques carried out by 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with a victim's relative during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand March 29, 2019. ( Reuters )

Mosque attacks remembrance service held in Christchurch

A national remembrance service for victims of the New Zealand terrorist attacks was held in Christchurch on Friday with a Maori lament echoing across the South Island city.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from 59 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, at the event which drew tens of thousands of people.

In her speech, Ardern said that "violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here."

TRT World's Ali Mustafa has more on the story.

"I'm here for solidarity. To show that we care," local Bobby Turner told AFP news agency shortly before the service began honouring 50 people killed when a white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques on March 15.

"It was just such a horrible thing to happen. These people were just going about their business. Prayer is supposed to be about love and peace."

Officials from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation were also present in the service.

NZ PM welcomes Facebook bans on 'white nationalism'

New Zealand Prime MinisterJacinda Ardern said that she welcomed Facebook Inc's decision to ban praise, support and representation of "white nationalism" and "white separatism" on its social media platforms.

"Arguably these categories should always fall within the community guidelines of hate speech, but nevertheless it's positive the clarification has now been made in the wake of the attack in Christchurch," she said at a press conference.

Facebook's ban was a shift in policy after criticism by civil rights groups that it was failing to confront extremism.

Ardern said 59 countries will send diplomatic representatives to a national remembrance service on Friday.

Austria considers dissolving far-right group 

The Austrian government is considering dissolving a far-right group after it emerged that one of its leading members received a donation in the name of the New Zealand mosque attacker, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Wednesday.

Austrian police on Monday searched the home of the head of the Identitarian Movement of Austria, Martin Sellner, and seized computers and phones after prosecutors discovered that he had received a four-figure sum from a person named Tarrant. 

Brenton Tarrant – is the Australian man accused of the Christchurch terror attack.

Sellner denied involvement in the attack and claimed he had planned to inform authorities about the donation.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Austria's chancellor pledged a full and transparent investigation into any possible connections between the Alpine nation and the New Zealand shooter.

Kurz said anyone found to have committed crimes would be punished. "Furthermore (we will) examine whether the Identitarians can be dissolved," he said.

Some of Tarrant's anti-Muslim views are echoed by the Identitarian Movement.

PM Ardern visits shooter's town

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday visited Dunedin, the home city of Tarrant.

Ardern said she wanted to visit Dunedin to listen to the Muslim community's concerns. 

During a visit to an Islamic childhood centre, Ardern said that international Muslim leaders and nations have been "overwhelmed" by New Zealand's response to the attack. 

Tarrant is accused of the worst mass shooting in the country's history, and is next due in court on April 5.   

Police probe mosque attack links

Christchurch police launched an urgent investigation on Wednesday to find out whether a man who died after an early morning stand-off with armed officers had links to the mosque attacks which killed 50 people.

Police raided the 54-year-old man's home on Tuesday night and found a cache of firearms after receiving a tip-off from the public about "suspicious behaviour."

They stopped the man in his car in the Richmond Park area, just outside central Christchurch, and began negotiations that lasted for about three hours.

Police eventually approached the vehicle and found the man critically injured with a stab wound that soon claimed his life. They did not explain how he got the wound.

They said there were no firearms in the vehicle, which was also cleared by explosives experts.

"A high priority investigation is under way to determine whether or not the deceased man posed a threat to the community," police said.

Police said they would also look for any links to the mosque attacks.

"At this time there is no evidence to suggest this person had any involvement in the attacks of March 15, however, this forms an important part of the investigation," they said.

Banning of manifesto raises free speech debate

New Zealanders are debating the limits of free speech after their chief censor banned the 74-page manifesto written and released by the man accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

The ban, issued Saturday, means anybody caught with the document on their computer could face up to 10 years in prison, while anyone caught sending it could face 14 years. Some say the ban goes too far and risks lending both the document and the gunman mystique.

At the same time, many local media organisations are debating whether to even name the Australian man charged with murder in the March 15 attacks, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed she would never mention him by name.

Chief Censor David Shanks said Tarrant's manifesto contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty like killing children and encourages acts of terrorism, even outlining specific places to target and methods to carry out attacks.

He said that in banning the document, he and his staff worried about drawing more attention to it. But in the end, he said, they decided they needed to treat it the same way as propaganda from groups like Daesh, which they have also banned.

Shanks had earlier placed a similar ban on the 17-minute livestream video the killer filmed from a camera mounted on his helmet during the shootings. He said researchers and journalists could apply for exemptions from both bans.

But while free speech advocates haven't questioned banning the graphic video, they said banning the manifesto is a step too far.

"The damage and risks are greater from suppressing these things than they are from trusting people to form their own conclusions and to see evil or madness for what it is," said Stephen Franks, a constitutional lawyer and spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition.

New Zealand attack note left at California mosque fire

A note referencing the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand was found at the scene of a possible arson fire at a Southern California mosque, police said on Sunday.

Nobody was hurt, and members of the Islamic Center of Escondido were able to extinguish the small blaze before firefighters around 3:15 am local time, officials said.

The incident was being investigated as arson and a possible hate crime, said police in the city about 48 kilometres north of downtown San Diego.

A note was found in the parking lot referencing the shootings this month that killed 50 people at mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, police lieutenant Chris Lick said. He did not elaborate about the contents of the note.

Investigators did not release information about a suspect.

The fire caused minor damage to the building's exterior.

Thousands attend vigil in Christchurch

Thousands of people have gathered in New Zealand's Christchurch city to listen to prayers, songs and speeches at a vigil to remember the 50 people killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques.

One of those watching from a wheelchair was 21-year-old Mustafa Boztas, who was shot in the leg and liver during the March 15 attack at the Al Noor mosque.

Boztas, a Turkish citizen and New Zealand resident, says it was beautiful to see what the community had put together to show they care and that "we are all one."

Officials estimate up to 40,000 people attended the event on a sunny Sunday evening at Hagley Park.

It was held on a stage that had been set up for a concert by Canadian singer Bryan Adams, which was cancelled after the attacks.

More than $7.4M donated to help families

Around $7.4 million (over NZ$10.8 million) in public donations has been received so far to help families of the 50 people killed in New Zealand's mosque shootings, according to a pair of fund-raising websites.

A support fund on New Zealand site had received $5,689,028 from more than 91,000 donors as of Sunday, while, a global crowdfunding platform focused on Muslims, had netted $1,751,118 from over 40,000 donors.

Since then, New Zealanders have responded with an outpouring of support for the country's small Muslim community.

Ardern said last week that the country would cover the costs of burying the 50 victims as well as "repatriation costs for any family members who would like to move their loved ones away from New Zealand."

New Zealand reopens mosques that were attacked

Smelling of fresh paint, the two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch where a gunman killed 50 worshippers last week reopened their doors on Saturday, with many survivors among the first to walk in and pray for those who died.

At the Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 of the victims were killed by a suspected white supremacist, prayers resumed with armed police on site, but no graphic reminders of the mass shooting, New Zealand's worst.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, who visited the Al Noor mosque, said the attack assailed human dignity.

"This is a moment of deep anguish for all of us, all of humanity," he said.

March for love

Earlier on Saturday, about 3,000 people walked through Christchurch in a "march for love" as the city seeks to heal from its tragedy.

Carrying placards with signs such as "He wanted to divide us, he only made us stronger", "Muslims welcome, racists not", and "Kia Kaha" - Maori for 'stay strong', people walked mostly in silence or softly sang a Maori hymn of peace.

"We feel like hate has brought a lot of darkness at times like this and love is the strongest cure to light the city out of that darkness," said Manaia Butler, 16, one of the student organisers of the march.

Thousands gather to observe Friday prayers 

In a day without precedent, people across New Zealand observed the Muslim call to prayer on Friday as the nation reflected on the moment one week ago when 50 people were slaughtered at two mosques.

The Al Noor mosque's imam, Gamal Fouda, thanked New Zealanders for their support.

"This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology. ... But, instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable," the imam said.

"We are broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us," he added, as the crowd erupted with applause.

Ardern and thousands of others congregated in leafy Hagley Park opposite the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch to observe the call to prayer at 1:30 pm (local time).

Thousands more were listening in on the radio or watching on television as the event was broadcast live. 

The prayer was followed by two minutes of silence.

Assault weapons banned less than a week after massacre

New Zealand is banning the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons with almost immediate effect, Ardern said on Thursday, rapidly making good on a pledge to tighten the country's gun laws.

The move comes less than a week after a white supremacist rampaged through two mosques killing 50 people as they prayed, sparking global revulsion and national outrage.

"Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country," Ardern told a press conference.

Ardern added that high-capacity magazines and devices similar to bump stocks - which can make rifles fire faster - will also be outlawed. 

Legislation enacting the restriction will be introduced in parliament when it meets in early April, but an interim measure means a ban on new purchases has - for practical purposes - already been enacted.

All 50 victims identified - police

New Zealand police on Thursday said that all 50 victims of last week's terror attack in Christchurch had now been identified, allowing burials to take place.

"I can say that as of a few minutes ago the identification process and to all 50 victims has been completed and all of the next of kin have been advised," said commissioner Mike Bush. "That is a landmark for this process."

New Zealand mosque attacker 'planned' third attack

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said he believes police officers stopped the terrorist who killed 50 people at two mosques on his way to another attack.

Bush said they believe they know where the terrorist was going but won't say more because it's an active investigation.

In a 74-page manifesto he released before the attack, Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant said he was going to attack mosques in Christchurch and Linwood, and then one in the town of Ashburton if he made it that far.

Bush also revised his timeline, saying officers rammed the terrorist off the road and arrested him 21 minutes after the first emergency call rather than 36 minutes.

Bush said FBI agents have travelled to New Zealand to help with the investigation.

33 bodies released for burial

New Zealand officials have released 33 bodies of the victims from Friday's terrorist attack in Christchurch. 

50 people were killed and another 50 injured when a white supremacist from Australia went on a shooting spree inside two mosques in the city. 

Syrian refugee father and son first to be buried

Father Khaled Mustafa and his 15-year-old son Hamza were carried in open caskets on the shoulders of mourners into a large tent at Christchurch's Memorial Park Cemetery on Wednesday, the first of the 50 victims to get buried.

After janazah (funeral) prayers, the Mustafas – wrapped in white cloth, were laid inside a freshly dug grave facing Mecca.

Several mounds of dirt piled high marked the site of multiple graves which will be used for New Zealand's worst mass shooting.

“Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” said Gulshad Ali, who had travelled from Auckland to attend the funeral.

An area was set up for mourners to perform ablution ahead of the service, as is the tradition in Islam. 

Heavily armed police stood watch with flowers tucked in their firearm holsters and attached to their high powered rifles.

The family arrived last year as refugees from the Syrian maelstrom only to find tragedy in a land where they had sought sanctuary.

Khalid, 44, and Hamza were shot dead at the Al Noor Mosque, the first attack site.

Khalid leaves behind a wife, daughter and son Zaid, 13, who was wounded in the shootings but survived.

Zaid sat in a wheelchair, his hands held aloft as he prayed alongside other mourners.

Zaid Mustafa sits in his wheelchair and prays for his brother Hamza and father Khalid at their funeral at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 20, 2019. Zaid was injured during the shooting.(AP)

Bodies of six NZ shooting victims returned to families

Police in New Zealand say they have completed autopsies on all 50 victims of last week's mosque shootings, and have formally identified 12 of them. Six of the identified victims have been returned to their families.

Four days after the attack, relatives were anxiously waiting on Tuesday for word on when they can bury their loved ones.

Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. Ardern has said authorities hope to release all the bodies by Wednesday, and police have said authorities are working with pathologists and coroners to complete the task as soon as they can.

Police said in a statement that their "absolute priority is to get this right and ensure that no mistakes are made."

'Full force of the law'

Ardern vowed on Tuesday never to utter the name of the twin-mosque terrorist as she opened a sombre session of parliament with  "as salaam alaikum," a message of peace to Muslims.

"He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety," she told assembled lawmakers of the 28-year-old Australian accused of the slaughter.

"That is why you will never hear me mention his name.

He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless."

"I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them."

Dressed in black, the 38-year-old leader opened her remarks in parliament with the symbolism of the greeting uttered across the Islamic world.

She closed her address with "Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh – May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be with you too."

"On Friday, it will be a week since the attack, members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day. Let us acknowledge their grief as they do."

Gunman 'lucid' - court lawyer

Gunman in New Zealand's mosque attacks, Brenton Tarrant, is lucid and understands the situation facing him, the lawyer assigned to handle his case told media on Monday.

Tarrant declined to be represented by a lawyer, but the court appointed duty lawyer Richard Peters to handle the case.

"He was lucid," Peters told Australian TV network Channel Nine.

"He seemed to appreciate what he was facing and why he was there."

Pakistan mourns

Among the dead, nine belonged to Pakistan – four of them from Karachi – whereas several Pakistanis were also injured in the attack.

Pakistanis observed a day of mourning on Monday to show solidarity with victims of the terror attack.

Naeem Rasheed, one of the victims who tried to stop the attacker and secure his fellow Muslims, has been declared a hero by Pakistani government and the international media.

His mother and a brother have left for New Zealand as his family has decided to bury him in Christchurch.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday announced a national award for Rasheed for his heroic work.

Tarrant visited Hungary and Israel

Authorities say Tarrant arrived in Hungary as a tourist last November on a train that runs between Timisoara, Romania, and Budapest, Hungary.

Hungary's Counterterrorism Centre said in a statement that Brenton Tarrant entered the country on November 26, 2018 at the border railway crossing in Lokoshaza about 250 km southeast of Budapest.

The statement said Tarrant was travelling by himself when he entered Hungary, did not appear on any terrorist databases, had not been flagged by authorities elsewhere and would have been allowed to stay in Hungary for up to 90 days without a visa.

The centre says it is still investigating what Tarrant did and where he went while he was in Hungary.

He also made a brief visit to Israel in late 2016, Israeli officials said on Sunday.

The Australian national entered Israel in October 2016 on a three-month tourist visa and stayed for nine days, an official with Israel's Population and Immigration Authority told Reuters.

The official said there were no further details available on what Tarrant, 28, did during his stay in Israel. 

New gun laws to make New Zealand safer - Ardern

Ardern on Monday said she would announce new gun laws within days, after the immigrant-hating terrorist killed 50 people in attacks at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, was charged with one count of murder on Saturday. He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.

Ardern did not detail the new gun laws but has said she supports a ban on automatic weapons.

The organisers of New Zealand's largest gun show say they have cancelled the event to show respect for victims of the Christchurch massacre and because of "elevated security risks."

Intelligence inquiry into massacre to be launched

Ardern said an inquiry will be held into what intelligence, police, customs and immigration knew or should have known about Tarrant and the events leading up to the massacre, to see whether the terrorist attack could have been prevented.

"Today was also agreed that there will be an inquiry to look at the specific circumstances leading up to the Christchurch mosques terror attack on March 15. 

The purpose of this inquiry is to look at what all relevant agencies knew or could or should have known about the individual and his activities, including his access to weapons and whether they could have been in a position to prevent the attack."

Tarrant sacks lawyer, plans to represent himself in court

Tarrant, who appeared in court on Saturday and was charged with murder, on Monday sacked his state-appointed lawyer.

Peters, who represented the terrorist during the hearing, said the 28-year-old "wants to be self-represented in this case."

"The way he presented was rational and someone who was not suffering any mental disability. He seemed to understand what was going on," Peters said.

Under New Zealand law, if Tarrant pleads not guilty his case would normally go to trial, raising the possibility that he could face survivors and victims' families in court.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said authorities believe only one man was responsible for the terrorist attack who is in custody but the threat level in the country still remains high.

Ardern said the threat level remains high so authorities can identify trends and patterns of attacks.

Faith in system

Mustafa Farouk, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, told reporters he had faith in the system.

"As a community, we would like that person [the accused] to go through the process, the due process, and to be given all his rights," he said.

"We believe in the justice system here and we know it will do what is right."

But, he cautioned, the attitudes that gave rise to the killing – documented in a racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant screed released online minutes before the attacks began – must be tackled.

"This rise in hatred ... by people who call themselves right-wing, whether smaller groups or through reckless politicians, should not be allowed to continue."

"What happened to our community here will happen to another community," he said.

Ardern has announced that New Zealand will hold a national commemoration service to mark the attack.

Christchurch gun shop sold rifles online to terrorist

A Christchurch gun shop on Monday acknowledged selling guns online to the 28-year-old white supremacist who carried out the terrorist attacks, which upended New Zealand's reputation as among the world's most tolerant and safe countries.

At a news conference, Gun City owner David Tipple said the store sold four guns and ammunition to Tarrant through a "police-verified online mail order process." The store "detected nothing extraordinary," about the buyer, he said.

Gun owners, sellers move against semi-automatics 

"Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse," John Hart, a farmer and Green Party candidate from Masterton said on Twitter on Monday.

"We don’t need these in our country. We have make sure it’s #NeverAgain."

New Zealand's top online marketplace Trade Me Group said it was halting the sale of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of Friday's attack.

New Zealand, a country of only 5 million people, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms.

Australia introduced some of the world's toughest gun laws after its worst mass killing, the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in which a lone gunman killed 35 people using a US staple of mass shootings in that country – the semi-automatic AR-15, the same weapon used in the Christchurch terror attacks.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a national gun amnesty. Tens of thousands of weapons were handed in as laws were enacted to make it much tougher to own firearms.