Australian senator blames Muslims for attack, faces censure
By ROD McGUIRK
Saturday, March 16
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian senator had a raw egg cracked over his head and faces censure from his fellow lawmakers after sparking outrage by blaming Muslim immigration for the New Zealand mosque shootings.
Sen. Fraser Anning came under blistering criticism over tweets on Friday including one that said, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?”
“The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” he said in a statement.
Television cameras caught a 17-year-old boy breaking an egg on Anning’s head and briefly scuffling with the independent senator while he was holding a news conference Saturday in Melbourne.
Police said the boy was arrested but was released without charge pending a further investigation. No motive was offered for the egging.
The government and opposition party agreed to pass a censure motion against Anning over his stance on the Christchurch shootings when Parliament resumes in April.
While such a reprimand is a symbolic gesture, the major parties expect to demonstrate how isolated Anning’s views are among Australia’s 226 federal lawmakers. The major parties’ support ensures the censure motion will be passed by both chambers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he denounced Anning’s comments.
“In his conflation of this horrendous terrorist attack with issues of immigration, in his attack on Islamic faith specifically — these comments are appalling and they’re ugly and they have no place in Australia, in the Australian Parliament,” Morrison said. “He should be, frankly, ashamed of himself.”
Bilal Rauf, spokesman for the Australian National Imams Council, the nation’s top Muslim group, likened the senator’s views to the rambling manifesto published online by suspect Brenton Tarrant before the slayings.
“When one looks at his statement, it may as well have been an extract from the manifesto of the person that perpetrated these heinous crimes, this act of terrorism in Christchurch,” Rauf said.
Rauf said Anning was unfit for the Senate.
Opposition lawmaker Penny Wong accused Anning of attempting to use the tragedy to grab attention ahead of elections in May.
Anning only received 19 votes in the last election in 2016. But because of a quirk in the Australian electoral system, he was elevated to the Senate by the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim One Nation party after a court ruled that its senator, Malcolm Roberts, had not been eligible to run for election due to his dual citizenship.
Anning later defected from One Nation to another anti-immigration party, then became an independent. Analysts say Anning is unlikely to be re-elected as an independent candidate in May.
Anning was widely condemned for his first speech to the Senate in August advocating reviving a white-only immigration policy and using the term “final solution” in calling for a vote on which migrants to admit into the country. Critics accused him of making a veiled reference to the Nazi extermination of Jews.
The government also announced on Saturday it had banned right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos from touring the country over his social media response to the Christchurch shootings.
Immigration Minister David Coleman said Yiannopoulos’ social media comments are “appalling and foment hatred and division.”
Coleman didn’t specify which comments he was referring to.
Yiannopoulos said on Facebook that attacks like Christchurch happen because “the establishment panders to and mollycoddles extremist leftism and barbaric, alien religious cultures.”
Lawmakers within Australia’s conservative government had been quarreling in recent weeks over whether the firebrand commentator should be allowed to tour Australia this year.
Christchurch gun shop sold rifles online to accused shooter
By JULIET WILLIAMS, STEPHEN WRIGHT and KRISTEN GELINEAU
Monday, March 18
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — A Christchurch gun shop on Monday acknowledged selling guns online to the 28-year-old white supremacist accused of killing 50 people in mosque shootings that have upturned New Zealand’s reputation as among the world’s most tolerant and safe nations.
At a news conference, Gun City owner David Tipple said the store sold four guns and ammunition to Brenton Harrison Tarrant through a “police-verified online mail order process.” The store “detected nothing extraordinary,” about the buyer, he said.
Separately, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said gun law reforms would be announced within 10 days and an inquiry conducted into intelligence and security services who failed to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans. There have been concerns intelligence agencies have been overly focused on the Muslim community in detecting and preventing security risks.
The police commissioner Mike Bush said police are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but aren’t ruling out that he had support.
“I would like to state that we believe absolutely there was only one attacker responsible for this,” he told a news conference. “That doesn’t mean there weren’t possibly other people in support and that continues to form a very, very important part of our investigation.”
None of the guns sold to Tarrant were military-style, semi-automatic weapons, according to Tipple. It was not clear if any of the firearms Tarrant purchased from Gun City were used in Friday’s shootings.
In vowing to tighten gun laws, Ardern has said the attacker used five guns, two of them semi-automatic, which were purchased with an ordinary gun license and modified.
Tipple said he felt no responsibility for the tragedy and refused to say whether he believed gun ownership laws should change in New Zealand, insisting a debate over guns should be held at another time.
“This man wrote in his manifesto that the purpose of using a firearm was to divide us,” Tipple said. “If we allow him to make changes in our ideology, in our behavior, he’s won.”
His store has been criticized for leaving out a roadside advertising billboard that shows a parent helping children with rifle target practice in the wake of the shootings.
Three days after the attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history, relatives were anxiously waiting 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.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussien Al-Umari died at the Al Noor mosque, wept as she talked about a kind man, a quintessential big brother who delighted in teasing his little sister.
On Monday, the family was still waiting for the release of Hussein’s body. They have tried to be patient, and understand that police have a job to do, but they are growing weary of the lack of information.
“It’s very unsettling not knowing what’s going on, if you just let me know — is he still in the mosque? Is he in a fridge? Where is he?” Aya said. “I understand the police need to do their job because it’s a crime scene, but you need to communicate with the families.”
Members of the Muslim community and police were at a cemetery which has been fenced off and obscured with white netting. Backhoes had stopped digging and police officers said they were setting up a media area inside the cemetery.
Kawthar Abulaban, 54, who survived the shooting at the Al Noor Mosque, came to the burial site to see the preparations. She did not mind the row of photographers and reporters lined up outside the cemetery.
“It’s good for the world to see what’s happened because people around the world, they thought we were terrorists because some stupid people, they said they are Muslims, they go and kill innocent people, they thought we are terrorists,” said Abulaban who emigrated to New Zealand from Jordan 17 years ago.
“I will not change my opinion about New Zealand. It’s my country,” she said. “You know I have lots of support, lots of love, lots of kindness from all of the New Zealand people.”
Ardern has said authorities hoped to release all the bodies by Wednesday and police said authorities were working with pathologists and coroners to complete the task as soon as they could.
Tarrant, an Australian citizen who lived in New Zealand, appeared in court on Saturday where the judge read one murder charge and said more charges would likely follow. The New Zealand Herald reported Monday that he had dismissed his appointed lawyer and plans to defend himself.
Tarrant had posted a muddled, 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto online before the attacks and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter.
Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings during the first 24 hours after the massacre. The revelation in a tweet provided a chilling snapshot of how quickly provocative and often disturbing images circulate on the internet.
Thousands of people struggling to make sense of the tragedy have paid tribute to the victims at makeshift memorials in Christchurch, a leafy city of 400,000 people known for its English heritage and the river that meanders through it.
Hundreds of flowers were piled up amid candles, balloons and notes of grief and love outside the Al Noor mosque and the city’s botanic gardens.
Some people sang tributes and others prayed as camera crews from around the world filmed the moving scenes.
“We are a nation who will never accept acts like this!!!,” said a poster-sized message decorated with hearts attached to the iron fence of the botanic gardens. “We stand with the Muslim community. We will always fight for the safety of our community. We will always stand as one.”
Associated Press writer Nick Perry contributed to this report.
Mosque killer’s rifles bore white-supremacist references
By JON GAMBRELL
Friday, March 15
The self-proclaimed racist who attacked a New Zealand mosque during Friday prayers in an assault that killed 49 people used rifles covered in white-supremacist graffiti and listened to a song glorifying a Bosnian Serb war criminal.
These details highlight the toxic beliefs behind an unprecedented, live-streamed massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Some of the material posted by the killer resembles the meme-heavy hate speech prominent in dark corners of the internet. Beneath the online tropes lies a man who matter-of-factly wrote that he was preparing to conduct a horrific attack.
— The shooter’s soundtrack as he drove to the mosque included an upbeat-sounding tune that belies its roots in a destructive European nationalist and religious conflict. The nationalist Serb song from the 1992-95 war that tore apart Yugoslavia glorifies Serbian fighters and Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who is jailed at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide and other war crimes against Bosnian Muslims. A YouTube video for the song shows emaciated Muslim prisoners in Serb-run camps during the war. “Beware Ustashas and Turks,” says the song, using wartime, derogatory terms for Bosnian Croats and Muslims.
— When the gunman returned to his car after the shooting, the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” as the man, a 28-year-old Australian, drives away.
— At least two rifles used in the shooting bore references to Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old girl killed in an April 2017 truck-ramming attack in Stockholm by Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek man. Akerlund’s death is memorialized in the gunman’s apparent manifesto, published online, as an event that led to his decision to wage war against what he perceives as the enemies of Western civilization.
— The number 14 is also seen on the gunman’s rifles. It may refer to “14 Words,” which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center is a white supremacist slogan linked to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” He also used the symbol of the Schwarze Sonne, or black sun, which “has become synonymous with myriad far-right groups,” according to the center, which monitors hate groups.
— In photographs from a now deleted Twitter account associated with the suspect that match the weaponry seen in his live-streamed video, there is a reference to “Vienna 1683,” the year the Ottoman Empire suffered a defeat in its siege of the city at the Battle of Kahlenberg. “Acre 1189,” a reference to the Crusades, is also written on the guns.
Four names of legendary Serbs who fought against the 500-year-rule of the Ottomans in the Balkans, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, are also seen on the gunman’s rifles.
— The name Charles Martel, who the Southern Poverty Law Center says white supremacists credit “with saving Europe by defeating an invading Muslim force at the Battle of Tours in 734,” was also on the weapons. They also bore the inscription “Malta 1565,” a reference to the Great Siege of Malta, when the Maltese and the Knights of Malta defeated the Turks.
Associated Press writers Stephen Wright in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.
New Zealand’s darkest day: 36 minutes of terror
By NICK PERRY, KRISTEN GELINEAU and JULIET WILLIAMS
Monday, March 18
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — On March 15, New Zealand changed. Some are calling it a loss of innocence, a reminder that distance doesn’t bring protection against violence. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to change gun laws and investigate what went wrong. This is how 36 minutes of terror unfolded, according to witness accounts and livestream video.
Ardern and about 30 other people get a chilling email from Brenton Tarrant. He has attached a manifesto filled with racism and hatred as he tries to justify why he is about to carry out a massacre.
Its 74 pages are riddled with contradictions. He talks about the years he spent roaming the world and how “the varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion.”
Twelve pages in, he says he will target mosques in Christchurch and Linwood, as well as one in the town of Ashburton if he makes it that far.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian who the prime minister says wasn’t on the radar of the country’s intelligence or law enforcement agencies and held a valid gun license, writes that he planned and trained for an attack for a couple of years after moving to the city of Dunedin, about a five-hour drive south of Christchurch.
He says he settled on Christchurch because the mosque there, with its prominent golden dome, is busier and looks more distinctively foreign.
A member of Ardern’s staff sees the email and, two minutes after it arrives, forwards it to parliamentary security. But Tarrant’s plan is already in motion.
He is sitting in his gold Subaru station wagon in a parking area in a black paramilitary outfit. He turns on a helmet camera and begins an internet livestream.
“Let’s get this party started,” he says.
It’s Friday prayers, and the Al Noor mosque is filled with people. The imam, Gamal Fouda, has just finished the Khutbah, a sermon delivered in Arabic. He is starting the next part in which he translates it into English. The Khutbah is the most serious part of the prayer, where rapt attention is required and the worshippers are silent.
The sermon is about cooperating with each other, doing good and stopping evil.
As the gunman approaches the mosque, a man in the entrance calls out cheerfully, “Hello, brother.” Tarrant fires nine shots, one after another, and walks past the first bodies.
Fouda hears shooting in the hallway and sees people start to run. He stops speaking. “It was chaos,” he says.
The gunman’s livestream shows him moving into the main prayer room and firing at everyone he sees. It is a big room and has few exits.
An Algerian man smashes a window on one side of the room, Fouda says, and people start pouring out through the jagged glass. On the other side, the people there try to do the same. But the bodies begin piling up at the makeshift exits.
“And he was actually standing behind them, and he was shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting,” Fouda says. “Tragedy. Tragedy.”
Fifty-year-old Naeem Rashid, a teacher who moved to New Zealand from Pakistan with his family when he was 11, rushes up behind Tarrant, trying to grab the gun. Tarrant turns around and shoots him dead.
Asif Shaikh, 44, tries to run but falls in the crush of bodies. He thinks about trying to make it to the exit when he sees somebody else make the same move and get shot. So he lies there, next to an old man who has been shot in the thigh. They are exposed and uncovered, but somehow they survive. Days later he still can’t sleep, the sounds of gunshots ringing in his head.
Kawthar Abulaban, 54, is in the women’s prayer area with a couple of dozen other women. She hears a single shot at first, enough for some of them to jump up and ask, “What’s wrong?” Then a pause and a second shot and a dawning realization. Soon, there is a barrage of bullets. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens.
The women scatter in all directions. Three huddle together in a cupboard in one of the bathrooms. But the shooter seems to be concentrating on shooting men, Abulaban says. She runs out of the mosque.
Tarrant walks outside, where he shoots people on the sidewalk. Children scream in the distance as he returns to his car to get another gun. He walks back inside the mosque and shoots again at motionless bodies on the floor, methodically firing bullets into them over and over.
He walks out again and shoots at a woman walking toward him on the street. She falls to the pavement and begs, “Help me! Help me!” before he shoots her again.
Since firing the first shot, the gunman has spent six minutes at the mosque. There are no sounds of sirens, no SWAT teams arriving. People are proud of New Zealand’s friendliness. Unlike in most other countries, the police don’t carry guns. They keep them in their cars for emergencies.
The worst mass shooting up until now was nearly 30 years ago in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.
Tarrant gets back in his car. The song “Fire” by Arthur Brown blasts from the speakers, the singer declaring, “I am the god of hellfire!”
When Paul Bennett, an ambulance driver, arrives later, he sees blood flowing along the terra cotta tiles.
“There was a river of blood coming out of the mosque,” he says.
The shooter’s rampage continues as he drives away from the Al Noor mosque. Yasir Amin and his father, Muhammad Amin Nasir, are walking along the sidewalk when a car stops and a man begins firing.
They run, but at 67, Nasir can’t keep up with his son. As Amin turns to yell at his father to get down, he sees the older man has already been hit and is falling.
The gunman drives away. Nasir stares up at his son, unable to speak, blood pooling around his body. Amin grabs a phone from a nearby car and calls police. Father and son are taken to the hospital, where a critically wounded Nasir begins his recovery.
Neighbor Len Peneha helps several people who have escaped the mosque take shelter in his house until police arrive. He walks into the mosque and sees bodies everywhere.
“It’s unbelievable nutty,” he says. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
The gunman speeds toward the Linwood mosque. There are no sirens. He stops as two people cross the road in front of his car, unaware that anything out of the ordinary is going on. He blasts his horn at them and continues.
There are so many bodies piled at the Al Noor mosque that it will take police more than a day to find one of them. In all, 42 people are dead there.
Tarrant is speeding toward the Linwood mosque, weaving through traffic, blasting his music. It’s been nine minutes since he fired his first shot. Finally, a single siren can be heard in the distance.
The gunman talks as he drives: “A lot of them survived, unfortunately. They all ran pretty quickly,” he says. “The noise scared them. The women weren’t in yet. I got the men first,” he says, before the livestream cuts out.
The Linwood mosque is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Al Noor mosque but isn’t as grand. It’s a plain building in a poor neighborhood.
Inside, 33-year-old Elliot Dawson is praying with about 80 others when he hears the first shots. No one reacts at first because they’re immersed in prayer.
Latef Alabi, who is leading the prayers, peeks out the window. When he sees Tarrant in his black gear and helmet, carrying a big gun, he thinks it’s a police officer and isn’t worried. Then he sees bodies and hears the man yelling obscenities.
“I realized this is something else. This is a killer,” he says.
The gunshots continue. Dawson’s friend goes outside and comes running back in: “Everyone, get down! Get down! Get down!”
Dawson hurries to a bathroom, huddles in a stall and climbs onto the toilet so his feet won’t be visible. He tries to squeeze through a window but can’t fit. He wonders if this is the moment his life will end.
Another man in the mosque, Abdul Aziz, picks up a hand-held credit card machine and rushes outside screaming, hoping to distract the attacker. As Tarrant runs back to his Subaru to get another gun, Aziz throws the machine at him.
Aziz’s two younger sons are yelling at him to come back inside. Tarrant has gotten a gun and returns, firing at him. Aziz runs, zigzagging through cars in the driveway. He picks up a gun that Tarrant has tossed aside, aims and fires, but it’s empty.
Tarrant runs back to his car again, probably to grab yet another weapon.
“He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window,” Aziz said.
The windshield shatters: “That’s why he got scared.”
The gunman is cursing at him, yelling that he is going to kill them all. But he drives away, and Aziz chases the car down the street to a red light before it makes a U-turn and speeds away.
Seven people are dead at the Linwood mosque, a number many think could have been much higher if not for the actions of Aziz. One more person dies later at Christchurch Hospital and the death toll reaches 50.
Dawson says that someday, he hopes to come back to the mosque to pray again. He later stands on the street outside the mosque, holding a sign that reads, “We’re all the same on the inside.”
Two police officers ram Tarrant’s car, forcing it off the road, and drag him out. The next day he is charged with one count of murder, with more charges expected.
Many of the victims had moved to New Zealand to seek better lives in a country known for its beauty, friendliness and safety. Among the victims are engineers, business owners, students and a goalkeeper for the national futsal team. It is a modified form of soccer, typically played indoors.
The youngest of the victims is Mucaad Ibrahim, 3, who had big brown eyes and always seemed to be laughing. He had an intelligence beyond his years, a friend says. And he loved watching his big brother play soccer.