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January 20, 2021
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Christchurch massacre inquiry finds authorities were obsessed with ‘Islamist’ terrorism

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: An inquiry into the Christchurch massacre in which 51 Muslims were shot dead and several others were injured during Friday prayers at two mosques, has found a series of failures ahead of the 2019 attack, but concluded the tragedy was ‘unpreventable’.

The inquiry was launched after white supremacist Brenton Tarrant killed 51 Muslims at two mosques in March 2019.

It found he had been able to accumulate a massive trove of weapons, with authorities failing to enforce proper checks on firearms licences.

It further found officials were “overly focused on ‘Islamist’ terrorism”.

However, correcting these failures would not have stopped the Australian national, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this year, from carrying out the attack, it said.

What’s more, the patchwork of clues discovered by police after the massacre – including his steroid abuse, a hospital admission after he’d accidentally shot himself, and visits to far-right websites – would not have proved enough to predict the attack.

“The commission found no failures within any government agencies that would have allowed the terrorist planning and preparation to be detected,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after the release of the report.

“But they did identify many lessons to be learnt and significant areas that require change.”

She highlighted “failings within the firearms licensing regime” and “inappropriate concentration of resources” on a perceived level of Islamist threats.

“While the commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack, these were failings nonetheless and, for that, on behalf of the government I apologise.”

The imam of the Al Noor Mosque, one of the two places of worship targeted, said the report confirmed that authorities had been overly suspicious of the Muslim community instead of protecting it.

“We’ve known for a long time that the Muslim community has been targeted with hate speech and hate crimes – this report shows that we are right,” he said. “The report shows that institutional prejudice and unconscious bias exists in government agencies and that needs to change.”

He stressed that the changes recommended in the report should now be used to rebuild the trust between the Muslim community and the police.

Aya Al-Umari, whose brother died in the attack, said the report’s recommendations highlighted “all the right areas”.

“That is mainly: improving New Zealand’s counter-terrorism efforts, the firearm licensing, the social cohesion and New Zealand’s response to the increasing diversity of our population,” Al-Umari said.

She also said she hoped New Zealand’s experience would provide lessons to other countries, noting that the response would have to be at an individual level as well.

Related story: Terrorist who killed 51 in Christchurch mosque attacks pleads ‘not guilty’

“We each play a part in reducing hate crimes and reducing our unconscious bias. That escalates to what we saw on March 15 last year.”

However, the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand criticised the report for what they said was a lack of transparency.

“There are multiple areas of evidence that have not been investigated, and questions raised by IWCNZ have been ignored,” the group said.

“We find it concerning that the commissioners found systemic failures and an inappropriate concentration of resources towards Islamic terrorism, and yet state that these would not have made a difference to the terrorist being detected before the event.”