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Terror Attack on New Zealand Mosques

March 18, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


The ghastly terror attacks on the two mosques of Al Noor and Linwood in New Zealand on March 15, 2019, during Friday prayers has shattered the peace of this country and proved that no place on earth is safe from the specter of terror. The macabre attack in Christchurch on these two mosques resulted in about 50 killed (41 in Al Noor and seven in Linwood) and wounded 50, 36 of which are still in hospital included 20 in serious condition. The terror attacks began at the Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton in suburb of Christchurch at 1340 hours and continued later at Linwood Mosque.

Initial reports had spoken of multiple, simultaneous attacks but later the apprehended suspect was charged for the planned murder at both mosques. The ghoulish part was the killings, steamed live on social media by a terrorist (suspected Brenton Tarrant), the apprehended terrorist. Tarrant, an Australian citizen who had a gun license acquired in November 2017, carried out the killings with two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm. Live steaming of the killings by Tarrant on social media was linked to a 74-page manifesto that said he was motivated by "white genocide," a term white supremacists use to describe immigration and the growth of minority populations.

Tarrant was known to have traveled around the world and was in New Zealand sporadically. He had no criminal history in New Zealand or Australia, and had not drawn the attention of the intelligence community for extremist views. At the time of the attack, he was based in the southern city of Dunedin, some 225 miles from Christchurch. At Al Noor Mosque, Tarrant spent several minutes inside the mosque, shooting indiscriminately at the attendees.

He killed three people near the entrance, and many others inside a larger room, approaching wounded victims, firing at them multiple times. He then left the mosque and fired on people outside. He went on to retrieve another weapon from his vehicle before returning to the mosque to shoot more victims, many of whom were already wounded and unable to escape. He then exited the mosque for a second time and shot a woman twice near the footpath as she pleaded for help. He returned to his car and fled the scene shortly thereafter, running over the body of the woman he shot near the footpath.

At Linwood Mosque, the terrorist shot seven people offering prayers. Mercifully, the shooting was interrupted when a young man who takes care of the mosque wrestled the weapon from Tarrant but did not know how to fire the gun. Hence Tarrant ran into the waiting car. Two improvised explosive devices were found attached to a vehicle outside the mosque, which Tarrant could not trigger because he had to flee. These were later defused by the security forces.

The victims belong to multiple nationalities including Turkey, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Jordan, New Zealand and Pakistan. Seven Indians are confirmed killed till last reports came in. The Bangladesh Cricket Team on tour in New Zealand were lucky to escape the massacre, since their arrival at the mosque was delayed because of the delayed press briefing at the hotel in which they were staying. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the incident a terrorist attack in a press conference, saying the suspects held "extremist views" that have no place in New Zealand or the world. She has vowed to change the country's gun laws as a result. New Zealand police had initially arrested three suspects and one woman. Of these, two suspects arrested at a police cordon during the attacks when a firearm was found in their car were later found not directly involved in Tarrant's assault. The woman suspect has also been released. Only Tarrant is charged with murder, while the roles of the other two suspects are still being determined. Tarrant was arrested 36 minutes after he had first opened fire. Produced in court, 28-year old Tarrant, a former fitness trainer, gestured an upside-down "okay"; a symbol used by right –wing white power groups. He showed no remorse, did not request bail and has been remanded in custody till April 5.

These terror attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques has shaken the usually peaceful New Zealand, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution. The terror attacks give the horrific message that such incidents can happen anywhere. A disturbing part also is that Tarrant had no previous history of violence, had not expressed any extremist views and was not a suspect. Hence, repeat of such incidents by depraved individuals cannot be ruled out. There could also be ripple attacks on whites and elsewhere, as also by radicals who leave no opportunity to capitalize on such massacres for personal gains. For example, where India and the whole world condemned the terror attacks and sympathized with the victims and New Zealand, Hijbul Mujahedeen-supported Mehbooba Mufti went public in saying that 'had such a massacre happened here, the leadership would have covertly supported attacks on Muslims'. Political parties in India have in the past orchestrated violence for doing down rival parties. India has strict gun laws but we need to seriously address the blooming illegal weapon industry pan-India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.