Yesterday was the 15th of March (“Ides of March”), I was driving home from a meeting at the university. I thought that I’d pick up some stuff for home on the way. The way to the store was along a road that went past one of the two mosques in Christchurch. Just then, Jesse Mulligan started playing on the car radio a fascinating programme by Alejandro Escovedo (https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2018686702/first-song-alejandro-escovedo-and-adam-mcgrath ); I was so engrossed listening to the music, I decided to drop the idea of going to the store and instead took the highway route to return home.
After I returned home, I received an email from our department administrator to stay within the building as it was locked down following an incident at the mosque near Dean’s Avenue (the street on which the mosque was located). What could be the incident, I wondered. The habit in these cases is to check on twitter if something was brewing in Christchurch, and I flicked on Twitter.
The first tweet that caught my eyes was gruesome: someone posted that a shooter was on a mass shooting and uploaded a video. The video loaded and it seemed like an unreal video game (the video since is deleted), and I kind of instinctively stopped the video and scrolled on. It then dawned on me that I was looking at an actual video by someone named Brent Tarrant and the guy had posted something on 8chan: a 74-page document and something else. He also had a twitter profile where he joined on February and started posting shots of guns and white supremacist rant. Except what I was staring at and reading was an organised terrorist attack on a mosque by a gunman who stormed a mosque to kill muslims who went to the mosque on that day for prayers: his target might have been larger — immigrants to the country.
In a bit, the world turned upside. If this was a terrorist attack, there was possibly a cell that was executing that attack: are there others? All schools and hospitals, and universities and offices and the city was locked down by then. Daughter was at school and we live a hundred kilometers away from Christchurch, but wife was at a school and she was due to travel for a training later in the day. I called her at the school: no response. Several minutes later, I received a WhatsApp message that she was OK and that she was at the school where they had a lockdown. She did not know what was going on. I suppose she could have found from the internet but for some reason she did not.
So, this was it. A terrorist attack at the heart of my little city we all dearly love. We knew forever that Christchurch was kind of the capital of the skinheads in New Zealand; there were white racists and fringe elements hanging around, gangs in dark jackets and fast motorbikes would zip past us on the highway and on the city: then there were boyracers, but terrorism of the scale reach at our doorstep? Nah, we do not do that in New Zealand would be my maverick response to anyone even with a hint of suggesting terrorist attacks in Enzed.
I suddenly realised with a bottomless fear and chill in my spine that out here in our Aotearoa, we were finally standing naked and face to face with terrorism. The epidemiologist within me asked the question, “Why?”, begged the question, “Are there others?”, “is there a pattern?”
Why would anyone choose to come to New Zealand and start a shooting spree in Christchurch of all places? Admittedly, there are xenophobes, loony fringes and extremists in the city as they exist everywhere I suppose, but a terrorist cell like operation to target muslims in a relatively peaceful city that is being rebuilt after the earthquake in 2011 when the city is just about finding her feet, why? What have we done?
In her address to NZ, the prime minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was chosen because we do not condone hate crimes, rather we stand against it. Possibly. If you piece together the facts, it looks like a well-trained guy who is a white extremist, who hates muslims and immigrants gets out there with a gun, a go pro camera, a document that is written in the form of a Q and A, then posts to his facebook feed till 45 minutes before starting on a shooting spree.
Are there others? What is the motive? Xenophobia? Ethnic hatred? Disaffection towards immigrants? Or is there something deeper than that? Drive away immigrants? Incite more violence? Incite retribution and unrest? This does seem like very well planned, as the guy noted that he waited for this for two years. The police in their investigations revealed that he got a legit licence for his guns two years ago, and since then, he has travelled in several countries for short trips. He is not from Christchurch but used to live in Dunedin. He is not from New Zealand either.
Did he drive all the way from Dunedin to Christchurch just for the shooting? Then where did he post these videos one hour before coming to shoot? Are there others who are his accomplices. There definitely seemed to be people in the social media sites (8chan and 4chan among others) where he seemed to attract sympathisers.
The shooting scences are macabre. He started playing “kebab removal” in the video, then walked up and started shooting: returned to his car and reloaded and started shooting again. How did he know where to go? From where did he get the funds and tools to plan and work on this? Where was he indoctrinated? Who are his accomplices?
More importantly, will there be other attacks in NZ; what or how can these be prevented? How can the lives of innocent people be saved? Is there a way to predict and pre-empt the attacks before they happen? Where could the clues might be hidden? I am sure the competent security personnel and police will get to the root of the problem. They have already made the arrests, and the brave policemen nabbed the main culprit within an hour of his starting to shoot.
The grotesque nature of his shooting, his bragging on the posts of his document (I will not name the document or share any link) that he was trained as a navy seal and he had taken on Al Qaeda, his links to Serbians, Turks and their history, all point to the fact that he is familiar with Islam, he is familiar with the middle east and the practices: that there is a stamp of IS in his execution: the macabre display of dead bodies and live shooting, the bragging, as if all rolled into one. We have seen that there have been radicalised jihadis of Kiwi origin who want to return to New Zealand.
What if his apparent “white supremacy” is a fakery? That he is actually a mercenary, who is hired to create unrest and rift in New Zealand? In any case, we in New Zealand need to be on guard. We have to be on alert. We will not let the terrorists get better of us.
Death to all forms of extemism and terrorism. There is no place of evil in our societies.
Good will triumph over evil. It has always won.
We will fight hatred and we will win.