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Christchurch attacks: What you need to know

March 16, 2019

Two mass shootings at mosques in the New Zealand city have left 50 dead and stunned the world. DW brings you up to speed on the tragic events as details emerge about the right-wing extremist charged in the attacks.

People lay flowers and notes to pay tribute close to the Al Noor Mosque shooting area, in Christchurch, New Zealand
Image: picture-alliance/AA/P. Adones

A 28-year-old man suspected of being behind Friday's deadly terror attacks against the Muslim community in Christchurch appeared briefly in court on Saturday, where he faced one charge of murder, with the expectation of more similar charges to come.

The shooting attacks at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday killed 50 people and injured at least 47, making it the deadliest attack in New Zealand's modern history. It sparked horror and dismay around the world and prompted international leaders to denounce the Islamophobic violence.

What happened

  • On Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, a shooter entered the Al Noor Mosque and opened fire with multiple weapons, killing 41 people.
  • Around the same time a shooter or shooters also opened fire at the nearby Linwood Mosque, killing seven others. One other died later in hospital, while a 50 victim was found at the first mosque a day later.
  • Shortly afterward a livestream video of the attack spread around the world through social media, as Facebook and Twitter worked to remove the video from their platforms.
  • Police arrested four individuals in the attacks' immediate aftermath. One was eventually released, one has been charged with murder, and two remain in custody.
  • Police also said they had found explosive devices at one mosque, which they secured and detonated.
  • They warned people not to go anywhere near mosques in the country.
A man with his face pixelated out appears in court escorted by police
The suspect flashed an upside-down 'OK' signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe, in court SaturdayImage: Reuters/M. Mitchell

Suspect details emerge

  • Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspect, has been charged with murder.
  • Before the attacks, Tarrant posted a 74-page manifesto on social media. In it, he identified himself as a white supremacist and a fascist and said he wanted to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
  • Tarrant had legally purchased the weapons used in the attack, which included two semi-automatic rifles.
  • He had traveled around the world and lived sporadically in Dunedin, a town outside of Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference.
  • The Australian government has confirmed the suspect is an Australian citizen.
  • Australian police said the suspect had only been known to them for "minor traffic matters," and he had not been on the intelligence community's radar.

Read more: Dylan Thomas' most famous poem misused in NZ terrorist's manifesto

World responds

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the shootings "can now only be described as a terrorist attack" and called it one of New Zealand's "darkest days." She also vowed to reform the country's relaxed gun laws.

US President Donald Trump, who was referred to as "a symbol of renewed white identity" in the suspected attacker's manifesto, described the tragedy as a "horrible massacre" and expressed solidarity with New Zealand, while simultaneously downplaying the threat of rising white nationalism around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the shootings were not only an attack on Muslims, but also on New Zealand's tolerant society: "We share these values with New Zealand and we share their horror and condemnation of this attack."

Both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attacks and cited rising Islamophobia around the world.

Condolences and condemnation were expressed by Catholic leader Pope Francis, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, British Prime Minister Theresa May and the UN Security Council, among others.

A woman holds a candle amid a group of people holding signs against Islamophobia
Mourners in Toronto, Canada, held a vigil for the victims of the mosque attacksImage: Reuters/C. Helgren

New Zealand: Open to immigrants

The victims in the attack were of many different nationalities, with people from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey among the missing, injured or dead.

New Zealand is generally considered to be welcoming to refugees and immigrants. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would increase its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020.

Former DW correspondent Clare Richardson tweeted that a memorial paying tribute to the victims and expressing solidarity with Muslim communities had sprung up in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Gun laws 

Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand, a country of around 5 million people, though there are an estimated 1.5 million guns in the country, or one for every third person.

New Zealand tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic weapons in 1992. However, anyone over 16 can apply for a firearms license, which lasts for 10 years after a background check and completion of a safety course. Most guns do not require registration.

cmb/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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