Christchurch mosque attacks: Mistakes, but unpreventable

Official inquiry says intelligence services were distracted from right-wing threats due to focus on ‘Islamic extremism’.

The official report into the Christchurch attacks found there was no single sign that would have alerted the authorities to the attacks [Sanka Vidanagama/AFP]

New Zealand has released an almost 800-page report into the March 2019 killing of 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry report concluded that, while intelligence services had directed their efforts away from investigating right-wing threats and instead focused heavily on the “threat of Islamist extremist” activity, they could not have been alerted of an imminent attack.

The report, released Tuesday, took issue with Christchurch authorities for deploying “an inappropriate concentration of resources” on “other terrorism threats” in the country, distracting them from threats such as that posed by white supremacists.

However, the report said, “No single aspect of it [information available to authorities] could have alerted public sector agencies to an impending terrorist attack.”

In hindsight, while there were circumstances that could be linked to the Australian attacker’s plan, the signs were too “fragmentary” and it was difficult to put together to establish evidence that merit immediate action, it said.

The inquiry was formed to look into the authorities’ response and to determine whether the attack could have been prevented.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern apologised for the government’s shortcomings, saying: “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.

“Ultimately, this roughly 800-page report can be distilled into one simple premise: Muslim New Zealanders should be safe. “Muslim New Zealanders should be safe. Anyone who calls New Zealand home, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation should be safe,” Ardern said following the release of the report.


Brenton Tarrant, who had expressed white supremacist and anti-Muslim views before the killings, carried out the attack in 2019 and live-streamed it on social media.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole earlier this year.

Large cache of firearms

The report said that more than a year before the attack, the attacker was found to have shown “hallmarks of steroid overuse” and had not shown any interest in giving up the use of testosterone.

In July 2018, the gunman had also injured his right eye and thigh in a firearm accident at his home.

By then, he had already been practising shooting with a large cache of firearms. It was during that time that he had injured himself when his firearm malfunctioned and jammed, the report said.

He reportedly sought treatment at the hospital in Dunedin, but officials at the hospital failed to alert the police about it.

None of those events, however, could have established that he was plotting an attack, or that he was already amassing weapons, according to the inquiry’s findings.

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Christchurch, said the “overriding” sentiment of the Muslim community was acceptance and support for the 44 recommendations made.

But at the same time, there were also some who felt that “not enough was said” in the report, about how the concerns of the Muslim community had been overlooked.

Ardern has promised “accountability” for the families of the victims and survivors but says some recommendations may take time to implement.

“I absolutely appreciate the community will want to see accountability in terms of implementation. They will want to see who is responsible for coordinating some of those efforts … and we will be providing that,” Ardern told a regular media briefing.

The report took about 18 months to finish and contains interviews with hundreds of people including security agencies, Muslim community leaders, international experts and officials in England, Norway and Australia, as well as with Ardern.

Ardern received global praise for her compassionate response to the attack. She swiftly banned the sale of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons similar to those used in the attack and launched a global movement against online hard-line views.

However, authorities were criticised for ignoring repeated warnings from the Muslim community that hate crimes against them were escalating, and that security agencies were failing to record such crimes.

Source: Al Jazeera