Ardern apologizes as probe says focus on Muslim threat led to mosque attack
Sydney, Australia, Dec 8 (efe-epa).- New Zealand counter-terror agencies were “almost exclusively” concentrated on Islamist extremism as they did not focus much on right-wing terrorism threats before the gun attack on two Christchurch mosques that killed 51 Muslim worshipers last year, according to a probe report released Tuesday.
The nearly 800-page report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry, however, did not find failings of government agencies that could have prevented the worst massacre in the country on Mar. 15, 2019.
Still, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologized to the nation for certain shortcomings and promised to boost counter-terrorism laws to prevent such attacks.
“While the commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack, these were failings none the less, and for that on behalf of the government, I apologize,” Ardern said.
The prime minister noted that the commission also found no failures with the government that would have allowed the early detection of plans and preparation by the terrorists.
She recalled that the Muslim community had expressed concerns about the “disproportionate scrutiny” of its members and leaders by security and intelligence agencies.
The report, she said, confirmed that there was an “inappropriate concentration of resources.”
“The terrorist attack was driven by an extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology. Its purpose was to promote chaos and disharmony in New Zealand,” the report said.
It pointed out that the “primary, but not exclusive, focus” of counter-terrorism resources between 2016 and the day of the attack was on the “threat of Islamist extremist terrorism.”
“It is important to note that counter-terrorism agencies did follow up leads relating to possible right-wing extremist terrorism. So, the concentration on the threat of Islamist extremist terrorism was
not to the exclusion of addressing other leads when they arose.”
The report also highlighted the firearms licensing regime, which the Ardern government tightened after the attack.
It noted that the Christchurch attacker, Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who had a firearms license, would have in any way obtained the weapons to carry out the mayhem that he streamed live on Facebook.
The government, in principle, accepted all the 44 recommendations of the commission.
These include a new strategy for security and intelligence agencies, new counter-terrorism laws, and the implementation of measures to build greater social cohesion.
“Nothing in this report, nothing that had happened in the courtroom, nothing that we have done in this parliament, nothing we will do in the future of this parliament … will take back what happened that day. But I hope each of those acts takes us one step closer to justice. And one step closer to change,” Ardern said.
The commission’s report contains thousands of documents and interviews with hundreds of people, including representatives of government agencies, leaders of the Muslim community, and security experts.
The government launched the investigation after Tarrant stormed two mosques in the peaceful southern New Zealand city of Christchurch with high-capacity semi-automatic weapons and massacred unsuspecting Muslim worshipers. Some 40 received gunshot wounds.
The supremacist was sentenced in late August by the High Court in Christchurch to life in prison without parole for terrorism, murder, and attempted murder, among other charges.
The prime minister received global praise for the compassion she showed to the victims and her calls for unity after the mosque attack, which sparked a campaign against the posting of extremist content on social media.