• Police have shared a provisional list of victims with relatives and are rushing to release bodies to relatives to allow them to observe Muslim burial practices.
• New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says gun laws will be tightened, but details will be discussed at a cabinet meeting Monday.
Commemorating the lives lost in shootings at New Zealand mosques
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A sports stadium usually filled with cheering crowds instead provided a snapshot of a nation in shock Sunday, as tens of thousands of New Zealanders came together to mourn the victims of Friday’s mosque shootings — and become part of a global debate over the role of guns and intolerance.
While Muslim leaders prayed for peace and togetherness, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier in the day spoke forcefully about guns.
“There will be changes to our gun laws,” Ardern said at a news conference. “We will be discussing more detailed policy elements at cabinet tomorrow.”
Leaders are considering a total ban on semiautomatic weapons like the one avowed neo-Nazi Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is accused of using to kill 50 people in attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch. An additional 34 people are in Christchurch Hospital, with 12 in critical condition in intensive care. A 4-year-old girl has been moved to a dedicated children’s hospital in Auckland, where she is also in critical condition.
Besides the debate on gun control, New Zealanders considered a call to open doors to more refugees and whether an enormously successful rugby team in Canterbury should change its name from the Crusaders because of the overtones of religious intolerance.
The massacre was on the minds of those in the rest of the world as well.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis in his traditional Sunday prayer said that the mosque attack reflected “the pain wars and conflicts that don’t cease to afflict humanity.”
Francis led the faithful in a silent prayer “for our Muslim brothers who were killed” and renewed “an invitation to unite in prayer and gestures of peace to oppose hatred and violence.”
In the United States, the shooting of Muslim worshipers allegedly by a white supremacist underscored the deep partisan divide over President Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and whether his words serve as incitement for extremist violence.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said it was “absurd” to draw a connection between Trump’s many statements about immigration and the admitted shooter’s words on the subject, spelled out in a lengthy manifesto that referred to immigrants as “invaders within our lands” and called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney said, “I don’t think it’s fair to cast this person as a supporter of Donald Trump any more than it is to look at his ‘eco-terrorist’ passages in that manifesto and align him with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi or [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez.”
Tarrant described himself as an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist” in his discursive statement.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of three Muslim lawmakers serving in the House, urged Trump to deliver a message of support to the Muslim community in the wake of the New Zealand attack.
Trump “is the most powerful man in the world right now,” Tlaib said, adding that he should speak out about domestic terrorism to the same degree that he has about foreign terrorism. “The fact that we continue to stay silent is what’s going to make us as a country less safe.”
On Friday, Trump offered condolences but said that he does not believe white nationalism is a growing global danger and that the suspect belongs to “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
Scott Brown, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, dismissed Tarrant’s manifesto and encouraged people not to read it. “I don’t give any credibility whatsoever to the ramblings of somebody who is rotten to the core and, clearly, is an extremist of the worst kind, who could walk into two mosques and, without any care whatsoever, kill people,” said Brown, who was also speaking on CNN.
Police in Christchurch have said that all the evidence points to Tarrant being a lone gunman. One other person detained in the investigation faces charges of inciting racial hatred, and another faces a firearm charge, but police say neither was involved in the attacks.
Police say Tarrant masterminded and conducted the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand’s history — and one of the worst cases of right-wing terrorism in years. He is accused of storming the two houses of worship during midday prayers and shooting dozens of huddling and fleeing worshipers while live-streaming the killings over social media with a body-mounted camera.
An Australian counterterrorism team in New South Wales carried out two search warrants early Monday — one at a home in Sandy Beach and another in a home in Lawrence, Australian Federal Police said in a statement. The two locations are within an hour’s drive of Grafton, where Tarrant grew up and where some of his family still lives.
In Christchurch, tributes to victims were visible throughout the city Sunday. In Linwood, the site of the second mosque attack, trees along one street were painted with images of hearts, and there were occasional posters with messages of solidarity including the Islamic message of peace and greeting: “assalamu alaikum.”
At the corner of Cashel Street and Linwood Avenue, not far from the cordoned-off mosque, a small crowd gathered, mostly silent on an overcast afternoon, around a memorial of cards, handmade messages of condolence, and flowers.
Casting her eyes toward the armed police standing watchfully nearby, a woman in her 60s said her grief was deepened by memories of time spent with members of the Afghan community, in particular Haji Daoud Nabi, a much-admired elder who helped newly arrived Muslim families but died in the attack, reportedly while shielding a friend.
“He was so respected, a lovely man. I’m sorry I don’t have any other words,” she said.
Karishma, 29, a Linwood local from a Hindu family, said she felt fearful for the first time since she arrived in New Zealand three years ago. Speaking beside a group of friends, one of whom was wearing a hijab, she said: “I had never felt scared before in my life here. It’s a safe country. It’s scary for us now.”
At a branch of Gun City in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, two protesters, Michelle Genet and Mary Lochore, held up signs decrying that the shop was open — and selling military-style rifles — two days after the massacre.
“People should show some respect,” said Lochore, 73. “How hard is it to be closed for the weekend?”
Muslim community leaders at the vigil and throughout the country argued that police and intelligence agencies have for years been focused on surveilling their communities for signs of radicalism but not extremist communities that could be targeting Islamic sites and places of worship.
“How was this not picked up by intelligence agencies?” asked Asif Koya, a former president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand, who said he had raised the issue with Ardern in a meeting Sunday and requested a commitment that law enforcement agencies will work with Muslim communities and share any crucial information on security threats.
Ardern confirmed her office was among 30 recipients of an “ideological manifesto with extreme views” sent by Tarrant nine minutes before the attack began, a manifesto she called “deeply disturbing.”
The email was forwarded to the parliamentary security office within two minutes of being received, but police said that by the time they were informed about the emails, the shooting had begun.
“It did not include a location; it didn’t include specific details,” Ardern said. “The assurance I want to give is: Had it provided details that could have been acted on immediately, it would have been, but there were unfortunately no such details in that email.”
At the Wellington Islamic Center, a mosque and community center, dozens of people streamed in and out of the gates Sunday, past an armed police officer on guard after Friday’s attack. They dropped off flowers and cards of support.
A volunteer at the center stopped to thank every one of the visitors — toddlers, elderly women unable to walk unassisted, mixed-race couples and families of every ethnicity — with a hug. Children of Somali refugees dropped off white roses, as their parents shed silent tears.
Ardern also visited Sunday morning and spoke with Muslim community leaders, including Koya, who said he had also raised the issue of gun control.
“We don’t want to see civilians with military or automatic weapons,” he said. “This is New Zealand, a peaceful country. What happened was an aberration, and we want things to be back to normal.”
Koya said he knew at least six victims and many others who remain hospitalized. Among his friends was Mohsen Mohammad Al-Harbi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia who was also sometimes an imam at the Deans Avenue mosque. He was 61.
“He was such a strong leader of our community; he would always help us to fundraise whenever we had any events here at the mosque,” Koya said. “It came as a big shock. I’ve realized I could have been one of them.”
Officials canceled sporting events and religious gatherings scheduled to take place in Christchurch over the weekend, including a five-day cricket test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand due to begin Saturday. Some members of the Bangladeshi team narrowly escaped the attack Friday.
There were also calls for the Crusaders, a rugby team, to change its name because of its violent religious undertones. The Canterbury club released a statement on its site Sunday saying that members were deeply shocked by the tragedy and that the name was “a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community.”
The weapons and clothing used by Tarrant in the attack carried numerous references to the Crusades, when Christian armies from Europe tried to seize the Holy Land from Muslims during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.
The club’s logo shows an image of a sword-wielding medieval knight with the emblem of a cross on his chest.
“What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch on Friday; our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit,” the club said.
Tarrant, who had no criminal record, had a registered address in southern New Zealand but lived in the country sporadically. The former fitness trainer led an itinerant lifestyle and traveled extensively, visiting Bulgaria, North Korea and countries with large Muslim populations, including Turkey and Pakistan, officials said.
Tarrant obtained a license in November 2017 for the guns that police say were used in the shootings at the two mosques; he began purchasing the weapons that December, according to officials, and at least some of them had been modified.
In Australia, Tarrant’s hometown of Grafton was also struggling to digest the news. His grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, said it was hard to believe. “It’s only since he traveled overseas I think that this boy has changed completely to the boy we knew,” she told 9News in an interview.
Stoakes reported from Christchurch, New Zealand. Brett Cole in Grafton, Australia, Aaron Patrick in Sydney and Shane Harris and Felicia Sonmez in Washington contributed to this report.