An Inquiry Into The 2019 Christchurch Attacks Identifies Government Failings And Future Recommendations For New Zealand

On 8 December, New Zealand’s Royal Commission of Inquiry found that the 2019 Christchurch mosque killings could not have been prevented, despite identifying a number of failures prior to the attack. Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, entered the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on 15 March, 2019 with several guns, injuring 40 people and killing 51. Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole on 27 August 2020, making him the first person to receive this sentence and to be convicted of an act of terrorism in New Zealand. The inquiry found a series of failings such as the concentration of available government resources on the perceived level of Islamic terrorist threat and issues with New Zealand’s firearms licensing.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, stated that “the commission found no failures within any government agencies that would have allowed the terrorist planning and preparation to be detected.” However, Ardern apologised, highlighting that the government identified “many lessons to be learnt and significant areas that require change.”

The report found that New Zealand’s resources had been focused on potential Islamic threats and Gamal Fouda, the imam of the Al Noor Mosque, stated that “We’ve known for a long time that the Muslim community has been targeted with hate speech and hate crime – this report shows that we are right.” Gamal Fouda cited both “institutional prejudice and unconscious bias” as aspects of New Zealand’s government agencies, emphasising that the report’s recommendations must be used to reaffirm the trust between the Muslim community and the police.

Aya Al-Umari, whose brother died in the attack, stated the country now needed to focus on “improving New Zealand’s counter-terrorism efforts, the firearm licensing, the social cohesion and New Zealand’s response to the increasing diversity of our population.” Ms Al-Umari hopes that the attack will act as a global lesson as everyone has a part in combatting and decreasing hate crimes by “reducing our unconscious bias.”

The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand (IWCNZ), however, criticised the report, stating that “There are multiple areas of evidence that have not been investigated, and questions raised by IWNCZ have been ignored.” The IWNCZ were particularly concerned that, despite the systemic failings uncovered by the report, the government maintained that being aware of these failings would not have a made a difference in the detection of Tarrant.

The report took approximately 18 months to complete and it includes interviews with hundreds of people, such as members of the Muslim community, international experts and security agencies. The key recommendations include the formation of a new, well-funded national intelligence and security agency, focusing on the development of a counter-terrorism strategy, as well as combatting emerging threats. The report also identified a need for the police to improve its identification of and response to hate crimes. New Zealand’s government will also be introducing an ethnic community ministry and a graduate programme for ethnic communities.

While these recommendations show that New Zealand is trying to learn from its mistakes, the IWNCZ’s critiques still stand as there is further need for the government to analyse the systemic issues and unconscious bias present in its own institutions, education system and, therefore, society as a whole. Tarrant’s attack has, however, led to gun law reform. The New Zealand Parliament voted by 119 to 1 to prohibit parts used to build banned firearms, and to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons. Going forward, New Zealand’s government needs to ensure that members of the Muslim community are involved in the research and implementation of the report’s recommendations to repair and promote social cohesion.