New Zealand security agencies were “almost exclusively” focused on the perceived threat of Islamist terrorism before a white supremacist gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch last year, a report into the country’s worst massacre found.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry also criticized police for failing to enforce proper checks when granting a firearms license to Australian gunman Brenton Tarrant, who released a racist manifesto shortly before the attack and streamed the shootings live on Facebook.
But despite the shortcomings, the commission found no failings within government agencies that would have prevented the attack at two mosques in the South Island city on March 15, 2019.
“The commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack. But these were both failings and for that I apologise,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after the report was released.
Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole in August for the attack, which left dozens injured.
Ardern received global praise for her compassionate response to the attack and for swiftly banning the sale of the high-capacity semi-automatic weapons Tarrant used. She also launched a global movement against online extremism.
However, authorities were criticised for ignoring repeated warnings from the Muslim community that hate crimes against them were escalating.
The 800-page report said there was an “inappropriate concentration of resources” on the threat of Islamist extremist terrorism.
Submissions to the commission by various Muslim organisations described how they felt they were targeted by security agencies while threats against them were not taken seriously.
“We find it concerning that the Commissioners found systemic failures and an inappropriate concentration of resources towards Islamic terrorism, and yet state that these would not have made a difference to the terrorist being detected prior to the event,” the Islamic Women’s Council said in a statement.
Gamal Fouda, the Imam of Al Noor mosque which was targeted by the shooter, said the report showed “institutional prejudice and unconscious bias” exists in government agencies.
The government accepted all 44 recommendations in the report, including establishing a new national intelligence and security agency, and appointing a minister to coordinate the government’s response.
It said it would create an ethnic community ministry and a graduate programme for ethnic communities to support the country’s diverse population.
The government would also tighten firearm licensing laws, strengthen counter-terrorism laws, and make changes so police can better record and respond to hate crime.
The report found that despite having no history in New Zealand, Tarrant’s application for a firearms license was approved by the police.
It recommended mandatory reporting of firearm injuries by health professionals, after it was revealed Tarrant was treated by doctors in the months leading up to the attack after accidentally shooting himself.
The report described Tarrant as “socially isolated” with few childhood friends but an avid internet user and online gamer.
Before arriving in New Zealand in August 2017, he travelled extensively, visiting dozens of countries between 2014 and 2017, mostly alone.
“The individual could present well and conducted himself in a way that did not attract suspicion. He was not identified as someone who posed a threat,” said the report.
Other than an email Tarrant sent eight minutes before he opened fire, there was no other information available that could have alerted authorities to the attack, it said.
Tarrant trained for the attack in New Zealand by developing expertise with guns at a rifle club, working out at a gym and taking steroids to bulk up, the report said.
He frequented extreme right-wing discussion boards such as those on 4chan and 8chan but YouTube was a far more significant source of information and inspiration.
Ardern said she planned to raise this directly with the leadership of YouTube.
Roadworker drove stolen digger through town to steal ATM from Wainuiomata BP
Luke Randall drove a stolen digger through town to a petrol station where he attempted to steal an ATM machine but instead caused $170,000 in damages before running off.
Around 1.30am on May 16 last year, Randall, 35, drove to a K&D Contracting worksite on Queen St in Wainuiomata, a site owned by his father.
There, he removed temporary fencing, entered the yard and broke the lock to a Hitachi seven-tonne excavator.
After turning it on with an unknown tool, he drove the industrial machine across two lanes of traffic toward the BP service station forecourt on Wainuiomata Rd, before parking himself directly in front of the station’s ATM.
Randall used the “boom arm” of the excavator to smash windows and crush the roof of the service station before causing further damage in an attempt to get the ATM.
But about two minutes later, he jumped out of the digger and ran off.
Today, the roadworker appeared in the Wellington District Court where he faced sentencing on charges of unlawfully taking the excavator and burglary. A charge of wilful damage has been withdrawn.
Judge Bruce Davidson noted the $170,000 worth of damage he caused and described the series of events as “quite spectacular” and “dramatic”.
Crown prosecutor Rachel Buckman said the amount of reparation sought by the business was $170,844, but accepted ” couple thousand dollars could be realistic” for the newly employed man.
Buckman said a sentence of home detention was “in the realm” of an appropriate outcome for Randall.
“The level of damage done was extraordinary in this case and needs to be taken seriously with a punitive element,” she said.
Defence lawyer Lara Caris said there was a clear nexus between her client’s addiction issues and his offending.
She said steps towards rehabilitation and a new job in traffic management had set him on a better path.
Judge Davidson acknowledged that pre-sentence reports had shown his willingness to confront his substance issues.
He said a sentence of home detention would allow Randall’s counselling and employment to continue.
Randall was sentenced to 10 months of home detention and ordered to pay $3000 of the $170,844 in reparation.
“Although it is only a token of reparation sought, I have to approach the issue with realism and pragmatism,” Judge Davidson said.
* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
Multiple houses on fire in Māngere Bridge, homes evacuated
Firefighters from across Auckland are attempting to control a large blaze on Coronation Rd in Māngere Bridge.
Five structures have been completely destroyed and multiple houses have been evacuated.
Emergency services were first called just before 3am to the blaze, which is close to the BP and church opposite Black Bridge Reserve.
Several road blocks were in place manned by fire and police, with a stretch of Coronation Rd closed between Walmsley Rd and the Coronation Rd off-ramp to State Highway 20.
Fire and Emergency northern shift manager Gareth Lewis said multiple calls had come in from 2.58am about a house fire in the suburb.
“On arrival, we found multiple houses well involved in fire,” he said.
Just after 5am the blaze was at a third alarm, with 14 fire trucks in attendance including three ladder trucks and three specialist appliances.
Employment Relations Authority asked to step in over senior doctor pay dispute
Te Whatu Ora is asking the Employment Relations Authority to step in and help resolve its pay dispute with senior doctors and dentists.
More than 5000 members of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) are set to walk of the job for the third time on Thursday after last ditch talks on Tuesday ended in an impasse.
Te Whatu Ora chief executive Margie Apa said the agency had urged the union to join it in applying to the ERA for facilitated bargaining.
“We are disappointed that ASMS did not join us in this initiative but remain committed to doing all we can to resolve this dispute.
“We continue to urge the union executive to formally present the current offer to their membership.”
The union said there had been no movement from Te Whatu Ora on its salary claim since it previously took the offer to members.
Its spokesperson said the offer on the table failed to even match inflation, and amounted to a pay cut for senior doctors and dentists for the third year in a row.
‘Hospitals are currently short more than 1700 senior doctors and specialists (about 20-25 percent) with that work being performed by the current staff.
“This is contributing to burnout and exasperating doctors wanting to leave the public system for private practice or overseas.
“Increasing the salary levels to not have them effectively go backwards will assist in the recruitment and retention of senior medical specialists.”
Te Whatu Ora said its teams were still determining the impact of the strike, but it was likely up to 250 operations, procedures and specialist appointments would be deferred.
Meanwhile, senior doctors and dentists from Auckland hospitals are using their four-hour strike on Thursday to fundraise for Lifeline.
Staff from Auckland, Starship, Waitākere, North Shore, Greenlane and Middlemore hospitals along with community mental health will gather at Pukekawa / Auckland Domain at 11am.
The union will also make a donation to Lifeline in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week.
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