DUNEDIN, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would deny the accused gunman the fame he sought by refusing to even speak his name in an emotive parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, the first since the worst massacre in her country’s modern history.
Espousing anti-immigrant, white-nationalist ideology, 28-year-old Australian national Brenton Tarrant is accused of killing 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, rattling a country that takes pride in its safety, diversity and openness.
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” Ardern said. “And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”
She added: “He is a terrorist; he is a criminal; he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
The parliamentary session opened with a recitation in Arabic from Imam Nizam ul Haq Thanvi of verses from the Koran that “provide comfort and reassurance.”
Ardern opened her address to Parliament with a greeting in Arabic. “As-salamu alaykum,” she said, looking up to the public gallery. “Peace be upon you, and peace be upon all of us.”
Tarrant has been charged with a single count of murder, but authorities say more charges are coming. On Tuesday, police wrapped up forensic work at the house he rented in the city of Dunedin, several hours south of Christchurch, and where authorities believe he had meticulously planned his attack.
Tarrant has fired his court-appointed lawyer and says he plans to represent himself in court, leading some to speculate that he’s hoping to use the proceedings as a further platform for espousing his extremist white-nationalist beliefs.
The massacre has shocked the world not only because of its scale — the shooter continued his rampage for more than 30 minutes at a second mosque before he was arrested — but also for the brazenness in which it was live-streamed on Facebook. Dozens commented, cheering him on, while others watched horrified as social media giants struggled to prevent the 17-minute video from being downloaded and re-shared over and over again.
He also published a 74-page manifesto ahead of the attacks, sharing it on Twitter and sending to dozens within New Zealand, including Ardern’s office and media outlets.
While Tarrant is held in detention ahead of his next court appearance on April 5, he will be denied access to media, including radio, television and newspapers. The New Zealand Herald reported that he is under 24-hour surveillance and will not be allowed visitors.
Ardern declined to say whether his trial will happen behind closed doors, but she emphasized to reporters that New Zealand will deny him the ability to lift his profile through the attacks. In his only court appearance so far, Tarrant’s face was blurred out in photographs and the video feeds showing him escorted into the courtroom, which the judge says will protect his right to a fair trial.
Despite the overwhelming support and praise for New Zealand’s handling of the massacre’s aftermath, families of victims are growing increasingly frustrated at the delay in receiving their loved ones’ bodies.
Post-mortems had been completed on all 50 victims, police said in a statement Tuesday night, more than four days after the attacks. Twelve victims had been identified but only six bodies had been returned to their families.
“Police are acutely aware of frustrations by families associated with the length of time required for the identification process following Friday’s terror attack,” the police said.
According to Muslim beliefs, bodies should be washed and buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. The delays are causing many families more trauma after the attacks.
“Normally we shouldn’t wait too long to bury, but in this case they’re still taking time,” Mohammed Bilal, whose cousin Syed Areeb Ahmen was killed, told the New Zealand Herald.
Tariq Mohammed, whose father was killed, said tensions were running high.
“Fathers have died. Brothers have died. Everyone wants their body back, man,” he told Stuff, a local news website. “There’s going to be a lot of emotions, man. We are humans; we are not angels. We will have feelings.”
The spokesman of the Islamic State, known only by his alias of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, condemned the attack on New Zealand’s Muslim community and called on supporters in the country to exact revenge.
Muhajir, who has not been heard from in six months, mentioned the New Zealand attack during a nearly 45-minute audio recording in which he disputed American declarations of victory over Islamic State militants in Syria, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online.
Breaking from the traditional Islamic State dogma that dictates that Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are apostates, Muhajir said “the scenes of death in the two mosques are enough to wake the sleep and incite supporters of [the Islamic State] who live there, to take vengeance for their religion.”
Facebook said it removed more than 1.5 million versions of the video feed of the mosque attack in Christchurch. Other platforms such as YouTube and Twitter similarly struggled to contain the spread of the gruesome footage. At the same time, users worldwide read through the alleged attacker’s manifesto, in which he laid out his views in a Q&A format.
Ardern’s case for not naming terrorists or focusing on them isn’t exactly new.
Some researchers argue that terrorism wouldn’t exist without the publicity the media grants them by reporting on their actions and ideologies.
On the flip side of this argument, however, some terrorism analysts have maintained that examining and discussing motives as well as individuals’ path to radicalization is crucial to understand how to prevent attacks.
On Tuesday, Ardern was widely applauded for her initiative, including by the husband of late British lawmaker Jo Cox, who was killed by a right-wing extremist in 2016.
“When Jo was killed I vowed the same,” Brendan Cox wrote on Twitter. “I have often genuinely forgotten the person’s name and my kids have never heard it. Notoriety is such an important driver for terrorists and we should all get better at denying them it.”
Fifield reported from Christchurch, New Zealand. Rick Noack in London and Tamer al-Ghobashy in Toronto contributed to this report.