Conflicts & War

A year after mosque massacre, extremist threat remains in New Zealand

By Rocío Otoya

Sydney, Australia, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- The existence of more than 60 far-right groups poses a threat to the security of New Zealand, which during Sunday’s one-year anniversary mourned the death of dozens Muslims in an extremist attack that led to the passing of a gun reform law.

The unprecedented attack against two mosques gave way to toughened arms laws and the repurchase of thousands of semi-automatic weapons.

As a country with low crime levels, New Zealand could never have imagined a white supremacist would carry out a broad daylight shooting during Friday prayers, killing 51 Muslims at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, exactly one year to the day in the town of Christchurch.

The author of the attack, the Australian Brenton Tarrant, had publicly voiced his supremacist views online, and broadcast the massacre of Muslims – including children – at point-blank range at Al Noor live on social networks before traveling 5 kilometers to the other mosque.

Until the time of the attack, New Zealand’s intelligence service devoted more resources and efforts toward the prevention of Islamic extremism instead of the threats of the extreme right.

Alexander Gillespie, a lawyer at the University of Waikako, told EFE that his country’s intelligence agencies have since increased their awareness of white supremacy and monitoring levels.

Gillespie said the risk of far-right extremism in New Zealand was no longer invisible.

Paul Spoonley, social sciences and humanities expert at Massey University, said New Zealand, with about 4.8 million inhabitants, harbors more than 60 extreme right-wing organizations with up to 300 active members.

In an interview this week with The Conversation magazine, he said the number sounded modest compared to the estimated 12,000 to 13,000 far-right activists in Germany (which has 82.8 million inhabitants), but added that ratios were similar relative to their populations.

Spoonley said these organizations are a high-level threat in New Zealand, citing groups such as the neo-Nazi Wargus Christi or Action Zelandia, which seeks to form a community of European New Zealanders.

New Zealand’s intelligence service said it plans to deliver an April report on how much it knew about Tarrant – who was not in authorities’ radars – to the commission investigating the Christchurch attack.

The country’s Prime Minister Jacida Ardern said Friday that there is much more to do in the initial stages, referring to measures such as her global initiative to silence social network hate messages, something her detractors say could make them move to the deep net.

Tarrant – who will be tried in June – had a license to carry weapons since 2017, with which he bought five weapons, including two semi-automatic firearms used in the massacre.

In April, the New Zealand Parliament passed, with 119 votes in favor and one against, a law prohibiting semi-automatic military weapons and assault rifles, with some exceptions, as well as spare parts and ammunition.

Following the passage of the law, an amnesty and buyback were organized between June and December, resulting in the recovery of more than 60,900 weapons and thousands of spare parts worth NZD 100 million ($66 million).

The government introduced in September the second tranche of the law, which seeks to create a more rigorous registry of weapons and regulations to obtain permits.

The initiative failed due to opposition from the powerful National Party and conservative minority ACT formation, as well as strong lobbying by gun owners.

Ahead of September’s elections, the New Zealand First party – which together with the green party forms the ruling coalition led by Ardern – currently opposes some of the proposal’s elements.

Ardern expects the bill, which has been nuanced to restrict government agencies’ access to the registry, to go ahead in the coming weeks or months.

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