Jacinda Ardern apologises for failings as report sheds new light on what led to New Zealand terror attack

The nearly 800-page Royal Commission of Inquiry report released Tuesday concluded that despite the shortcomings of various agencies, there were no clear signs the attack carried out by Brenton Tarrant was imminent.

But it did detail failings in the police system for vetting gun licenses, and said that New Zealand’s intelligence agencies were focused on the threat posed by Islamic extremism rather than white supremacists.

Among 44 recommendations, the report recommended the government establishes a new national intelligence agency.

Following the report’s publication, Ms Ardern said: “The commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack. But these were both failings nonetheless and for that I apologise.”

Ms Ardern said: “Going forward, we need to ensure an adequate focus of resources on the range of threats New Zealand faces and enhance our security and intelligence, and social cohesion work.

“An apology would be hollow without action.”

New Zealand’s police chief joined the country’s prime minister and security services in apologising to those affected, saying: “We could have done more”.

Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster apologised to those affected by the shootings, saying: “We could have done more. We unreservedly apologise.

“The only information that could or should have alerted police and other agencies to the attack was the email sent by the terrorist to parliament just eight minutes before the attack.”

New Zealand currently has one intelligence agency that focuses on domestic threats and one that focuses on international threats.

Often those agencies are focused on immediate events like keeping visiting dignitaries safe.

The report recommends establishing a new, well-financed intelligence and security agency that is more strategic in nature and can focus on emerging threats and developing a counter-terrorism strategy.

Tarrant, who is Australian, was sentenced in August to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to 92 counts of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.

The report details the extensive world travels of Tarrant but also shows he had almost no meaningful interactions with people in New Zealand because he was introverted and did not work.

As a child, Tarrant had unsupervised access to the internet and became interested in video games from the age of six or seven, the report said. He began expressing racist ideas from a young age and told his mother he started using the 4chan internet forum from age 14.

The gunman worked for about three years as a personal trainer at a gym in the Australian town of Grafton, but stopped working after an injury and then used his inheritance to live and travel.

He visited dozens of countries around the world, including India, China, Russia, North Korea, and many countries in Africa and Europe.

He moved to New Zealand in 2017 and focused on planning for his attack.

The report said he only had superficial interactions with people at a gym and the rifle club where he practiced rapid-fire shooting. Yet when needed Tarrant could present himself to others in a way that did not arouse suspicion, according to the report.

Tarrant told investigators that although he frequented extreme right-wing discussion boards on websites like 4chan and 8chan, he found YouTube a far more significant source of information and inspiration.

Ms Ardern said she planned to speak to the leaders at YouTube “directly” about how the gunman had become inspired by videos on the site.

In 2018, Tarrant was treated at Dunedin Hospital for injuries to his right eye and thigh after telling doctors he accidentally fired a gun while cleaning it at his apartment, the report said.

He got government compensation for his injury, which wasn’t reported to the police. The hospital registrar said the accident appeared to be careless and “a little unusual” but otherwise didn’t set off alarm bells.

Health authorities also wrote that Tarrant was taking illicit steroids and injecting testosterone after he was treated for abdominal pain, but they did not report that to the police either.

As part of the process for getting a gun license, Tarrant was required to provide to police the names of two referees who could speak to his good character.

He gave them the name of a friend he knew mostly online from gaming together, along with that friend’s father. Vetting officers interviewed Tarrant and the referees, and recommended he be given his license.

Police Commissioner Coster said that in deciding whether Tarrant was “fit and proper” to hold a gun license, “we could have done more to consider whether the two referees knew the individual well enough to serve as referees.”

The report also found that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, the domestic spying agency, had chosen to concentrate scarce counter-terrorism resources on the threat of Islamist extremist terrorism inspired by groups like Islamic State at the expense of other threats.

Despite the shortcomings of various agencies, the report concluded, there was no plausible way Tarrant’s plans could been detected “except by chance.”

Evening Standard – News