Team Coverage: New Zealand Mosque Shootings

Tags: Currents Faith, Family, Pope Francis, World News

Currents News Staff

Houses of prayer and peace were grotesquely transformed into places of horror and death in New Zealand, March 15.

One suspect is being charged with murder, others are in police custody.

At least 49 people are dead and 48 others are hospitalized in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

A self-proclaimed racist claimed responsibility for the slaughter of innocents.

“Many of those who would have been directly affected by this shooting are migrants to New Zealand,” said New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. “They may even be refugees here. They’ve chosen to make New Zealand their home. It is their home. They are us.”

Authorities have arrested 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen with ties to white nationalists.

He’s charged with murder and was expected to appear in a Christchurch courtroom on March 16. Two other suspects have also been detained. A number of firearms were recovered at the scenes of the shootings and two explosive devices were found in one vehicle.

New Zealand police say attacks on the Masjid Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Masjid Mosque were well-planned and strategic. The blueprint of the gunman’s intentions outlined in a hate-filled 86-page manifesto filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rants.

The horrifying attacks were carried out as worshippers were gathering for Friday prayers or ‘Jumah’ which means ‘Day of Assembly’ in Arabic.

One witness who was inside the mosque when the gunfire erupted said he heard the gunman “continuously shooting for ten to 15 minutes.”

Church’s Response

In an outpouring of support for the victims and the citizens of New Zealand, the Vatican released a statement saying the Pope is: “deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence… He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks.”

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio issued a statement saying, “I strongly denounce the horrific attacks at the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were aimed at immigrants and people of faith. On behalf of all Catholics within the Diocese of Brooklyn, I offer my prayers for those who have perished and who have been injured in these mass shootings. This is an unsettling reminder that the right to religious freedom is under attack throughout the world in nations that allow their citizens to worship the God they believe in.”

Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted: “49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do.”

The shooter’s racist manifesto, entitled “The Great Replacement,” lays out the alleged gunman’s motive – including a mission to avenge “thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders.”

The shooter also indicated he wanted to create conflict and divisiveness by choosing guns as a method of killing.

New York Security

Heavily armed New York Police Department anti-terror officers were mobilized in the immediate aftermath of the New Zealand massacre.

They’ve been posted at mosques and other key sites across the city.

Despite the security deployment, the NYPD is saying there are no known threats.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered state police to increase patrols around mosques and other houses worship across the state, adding “at a time of great division we will stand up to hate in all its forms.”

Meanwhile police departments across America are tightening security at mosques and other sensitive locations.

U.S. Leaders Cite ‘No Credible Threat’

The White House says it is closely monitoring developments. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said, “We’re going to cooperate with the New Zealand authorities to the extent we can, if there’s any role that we can play. But we’re obviously following the events there very closely.”

The Department of Homeland Security said there is no credible threat to the U.S. but officials are remaining vigilant and sending condolences.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims and their families today. The United States condemns this hateful assault.”

And the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemning the attack and urged Muslims here in the U.S. not to shy away from worship out of fear.

“We tell our community do not be afraid,” said Nihad Awad from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “and do not abandon your mosques. Not today. Not ever.”

Attack on Religion

Terror against holy places has left a bloody trail around the world with at least 25 assaults in the last decade.

Including the October, 2010 attack against Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad where 53 people died.

Six people were killed by white supremacist wade Michael Page at the Sikh temple of Wisconsin in August, 2012.

Nine parishioners and their pastor were shot to death in June 2015 by Dylann Roof at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people.

Last October, 11 people lost their lives at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

And in January, two suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Philippines, killing 23 people.

The suspected killer reportedly targeted New Zealand because it would show nowhere in the world was safe despite Muslims in the nation have a long history of living in peace.

New Zealand’s Muslim Population

The very first Muslims who arrived in New Zealand settled there in 1854. The city history now holds the record as the location of the island nation’s deadliest attack.

Since the 1990s, Muslim migration has accelerated to New Zealand. In a country of nearly five million people, more than forty-six thousand identify as Muslim.

According to the 2013 census, that’s up nearly 30 percent from 2006.

Compared to other religions, Muslims make up less than two percent of the population in New Zealand.

According to census data, almost half of the population identifies as Christian, though actual church attendance is closer to 15 percent.

With increased immigration in recent years, a growing number of citizens do not identify with any religion.

Leaders from across Australia and New Zealand were quick to denounce the massacre and apparent hate against migrants.

Just last year, New Zealand had announced it would lift its refugee quota and it was also in the process of settling groups of 20 refugees from Afghanistan and Eritrea every 8 weeks.

Gun Ownership On The Rise

New Zealand is known for its low levels of gun violence and reputation for tolerance and safety.

Investigators believe this is why suspect Brenton Tarrant picked the country.

In a manifesto they believe to be his, the author writes about how an attack there would show “that nowhere in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands, even in the remotest areas of the world and that there was nowhere left to go that was safe and free from mass immigration.”

According to police figures, the death toll from Christchurch is greater than the total number of homicides in the country for 2017.

New Zealand’s gun ownership rate has risen in the past decade to become one of the highest in the world.

According to gun policy, a firearm prevention group, the total number of guns held by civilians rose by more than 60 percent in the last decade.

The number of guns privately owned by civilians in estimated to be 1.5 million.