We were directed under our Terms of Reference to investigate the individual’s activities before 15 March 2019, including:
- his time in Australia;
- his arrival and residence in New Zealand;
- his travel within New Zealand, and internationally;
- how he obtained a firearms licence, weapons, and ammunition;
- his use of social media and other online media; and
- his connections with others, whether in New Zealand or internationally.
The references made to the individual in this summary are the views of the public and do not necessarily reflect our findings, nor did they form part of the sentencing hearing.
The individual’s actions on 15 March 2019
No one who made a submission said they knew personally the individual who carried out the terrorist attack. Many of the submissions described his actions as “abhorrent”. Other words used to refer to his actions were “heinous” and “horrendous”, resulting in a “tragedy” or “atrocity”.
We heard from some people, including some of the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, that they believed the individual must have had support to carry out the terrorist attack and did not believe he was a lone actor. They believed this was either through direct support (that more than one person was involved in the terrorist attack) or indirect support (such as through online communities). Some members of Muslim communities said that they believed the individual visited Masjid an-Nur, the Linwood Islamic Centre and masajid around the country before the terrorist attack.
People had specific questions about the individual that they wanted answered, including:
- Did the individual have direct or indirect support to carry out the terrorist attack?
- How could the individual afford to buy all the weapons and equipment needed to carry out the terrorist attack?
- How did the individual accumulate so much ammunition without drawing the attention of the counter-terrorism agencies?
- Given the fact that the individual had visited countries with travel advisory warnings, why was he not checked more thoroughly by Immigration New Zealand on entering New Zealand? and
- How did the individual know the “perfect time” to enter Masjid an-Nur?
We were asked that the individual not be named in our report, and that the terrorist attack be referred to only in terms of the 51 shuhada, to ensure the individual received no further acknowledgement, credit or attention. We were also asked to dismiss the individual’s reasoning for the terrorist attack and his background, and not publicly share this information.
Some people were concerned about secrecy surrounding the New Zealand Police investigation, because such secrecy would prevent access to information about the individual and his ideology. In turn this would impede efforts to increase awareness about hate speech and discrimination in New Zealand.
The individual’s activities before 15 March 2019
Many questioned why the individual had not previously come to the attention of Public sector agencies. A few believed that the individual’s conduct and the concerning culture of the rifle club he attended had been raised with New Zealand Police (but not acted upon). These submitters were uncertain about what information about the individual may have been available to Public sector agencies before 15 March 2019. If any information had been available, the submitters questioned whether it would have been considered in relation to the individual’s entry into New Zealand or his subsequent firearms licence application.
A few people queried whether there had been adequate information sharing between Australia and New Zealand when the individual entered New Zealand. One submitter considered that had information sharing, including with the border agencies (Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Customs Service), been part of the vetting process for recent arrivals, it would have revealed a suspicious travel pattern for the individual.
A fundamental point in the attack of 15 March is that the [individual] was an Australian citizen. As such, he was able to travel to and work in New Zealand freely. All that was required of him was to advise on his arrival card if he had any convictions. From information in the media, it appears he did not. If he had not declared previous convictions or indeed had not had any convictions, he would not be of interest to border officials. The only way he COULD be of interest is if he had declared a previous conviction, or if border officials had received information from Australian law enforcement agencies.
Similarly, a few people submitted that the individual should have been identified by Public sector agencies as a person of interest and flagged when he entered New Zealand and either interviewed or placed on a watch list, due to his travel history. A few people expressed surprise that New Zealand border agencies were not aware of all of the countries the individual had visited. These submitters considered that these countries included either known training areas for terrorist activity or significant historic battle sites.
A few people could not comprehend how the individual was able to carry out the types of activities that he did without being detected by either agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort or by New Zealanders observing his behaviours. Some submitters did not understand why the individual’s social media was not monitored, or thought that had Public sector agencies monitored social media, it may have alerted them to the potential threat.
He’s been talking hate, to a world-wide audience, for I don’t know how long. Hard to believe, but 1) apparently no one reported him to any authorities 2) Apparently none of his audience was a ‘Spook’ from any country that was prepared to pass on info to any of their allies. Or maybe his targets were not seen as politically suitable or worthy of official interest.
– Licensed firearms owner
A few submitters considered that Public sector agencies should have been able to predict what happened. One submitter stated that this was because of the number of supporters of extreme right-wing ideology. Another stated that it was due to the growing threat posed by extreme right-wing radicals online.
This method of attack has been promoted by terrorist groups for at least the last three years. The [individual] is clearly not stupid, judging by the way he went about his attack and his preparations. The methodology has been laid out in the media for years. […] One would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind, not to have understood what was coming.
– Licensed firearms owner
In contrast, a few submitters stated that the individual could not have come to the attention of Public sector agencies before 15 March 2019 and that the terrorist attack could not have been stopped. These views were based on different theories, including media reporting on the individual’s characteristics, and that he did not appear to give warning signs about his intentions, unlike other known terrorists.
From what I have learnt from speaking to people from countries that have experienced terrorism is that no matter how many laws that are imposed on the citizens of a country the terrorists will find a way to inflict terrorism.
– Licensed firearms owner
Had the individual not had access to firearms, a few people believed he would have found another way to carry out a terrorist attack using different methods, such as a bomb or vehicle, without regard to the laws in place at the time. The comments centred around the belief that some people will always find a way to inflict pain and misery on others.
The individual’s firearms licence
Most of the submissions we received relating to the individual centred on how he could have obtained a firearms licence.
Those people familiar with the firearms licence application process had very strong views about the robustness of the decision to grant the individual a firearms licence. They believed that, had vetting been more stringently applied, the individual would not have been granted a firearms licence. Specifically, most of these people stated that under the current firearms licensing regime, firearms licence applicants must be deemed to be a “fit and proper” person to obtain a licence. They did not think that the New Zealand Police former District Arms Officer should have concluded that the individual was a fit and proper person to hold a licence. This view was based largely on the following factors that submitters believed to be true:
- The individual’s travel to North Korea and the Turkish border with Syria (and his travel pattern more generally).
- The individual’s firearms licence referees did not know him personally.
- None of the individual’s family members were included in background checks undertaken by New Zealand Police during the licensing process.
Other questions and points raised with us about the individual and how he may have obtained a firearms licence, included:
- What was the nature of the individual’s social networks, friends and acquaintances?
- Did the individual live alone?
- How could the individual have been deemed fit and proper when he had only recently arrived in New Zealand, had no family connections here and no employment?
- What checks, if any, were made with Australian police about matters such as the individual’s criminal history, whether he had a firearms licence in Australia and about any behavioural and/or health concerns in his home community?
- Where was the individual interviewed for his firearms licence vetting?
- Was there a security inspection of his firearms storage?
- How was he able to accumulate firearms and ammunition without attracting any attention?
- Was the individual’s relationship with his referees primarily online only?
- Were his referees related to each other?
- Did any known associates in New Zealand or overseas assist the individual?
- How did the individual fund the terrorist attack and did he bring funds into the country?
It was reported that the individual had incendiary devices in his vehicle. A few submitters asked what they were for if he did not use them and how he knew how to make an explosive device.
Many people took the opportunity to compare the process they believed the individual’s firearms licensing process would have followed with their own experience of the firearms licensing process, particularly vetting. These people had experiences with vetting officers who were invested in taking the time to do a thorough job. They felt that the process was not just a “box-ticking” exercise.
The individual’s manifesto
The individual’s manifesto was commented on by some submitters, including some who conducted their own analysis of it. A few submitters did not agree with the ban on the possession or sharing of the individual’s manifesto, which they considered suppressed discussion about its content. One submitter stated that the ban may fuel another terrorist attack and hide its detection from intelligence and security and law enforcement agencies.
We learn from the past, that is how we ensure that it does not repeat. Hiding it only makes it a more valuable tool for propaganda.
– Licensed firearms owner
One submitter discussed the decision to classify the individual’s manifesto as objectionable. The submitter stated that this classification should be extended to other materials, such as footage from white supremacists recording their attacks and their associated manifestos. In addition to making it harder to disseminate, making possessing or accessing such material a criminal offence would also help relevant Public sector agencies in cases where people may be planning a terrorist attack.
While restriction of harmful digital materials is both necessary and important, evidence for links between such materials and violent behaviour is less clear and the research as yet inconclusive.
One submitter, however, felt the problem of manifestos and associated propaganda content is more straightforward. The dissemination of such material should be strictly curtailed because publicising such material helps achieve its goals. Another submitter stated that terrorist attacks become touchstone events for more hate, and that posting manifestos prior to such terrorist attacks has been explained as an attempt to inspire others.