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Christchurch shootings: New Zealand PM orders inquiry into mosques massacre

Christchurch shootings: New Zealand PM orders inquiry into mosques massacre

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, Mar 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday (Mar 25) ordered an independent judicial inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks, asking whether police and intelligence services could have prevented the Mar 15 attack.

Ardern said a royal commission - the most powerful judicial probe available under New Zealand law - was needed to find out how a single gunman was able to kill 50 people in an attack that shocked the world.

Ardern has said the man had not been on any watch lists in New Zealand or Australia.

"It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to how this act of terrorism occurred and how we could have stopped it," she told reporters.

It would also include the role of social media and the suspect's ability to obtain a weapon, Ardern said.

New Zealand's spy agencies have faced criticism in the wake of the attack for concentrating on the threat from Islamic extremism.

Instead, the victims were all Muslims and the massacre was allegedly carried out by a white supremacist fixated on the belief that Muslims were "invading" Western countries.

"One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said.

"New Zealand is not a surveillance state ... but questions need to be answered."

Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant, 28, who was arrested minutes after the attack on the mosques and has been charged with murder. He will next appear in court on April 5.

She said details of the royal commission were being finalised but it would be comprehensive and would report in a timely manner.

Ardern's decision to call such an inquiry was welcomed by members of New Zealand's Muslim community.

"The announcement of an inquiry is a great call and the right thing to do. I hope that it will be an inclusive inquiry and that an opportunity will be provided to the Muslim community to feed into the terms of reference," said Guled Mire, a Muslim community advocate.

"It's important we get this right so we can learn from past mistakes," he said.

Royal commissions are independent inquiries and are usually reserved for matters of the greatest public importance. Ardern said such an inquiry was an appropriate response to the attack but declined to give a timeframe while her government finalised the terms of reference.

Massey University security and defence analyst Rhys Ball, who formerly worked for New Zealand's intelligence service, said the inquiry should include agencies such as customs, police and immigration.

"I know that right-wing extremism was always considered a potential problem and was monitored from time to time and investigated," Ball said.

"There may be some failings, may have been things missed, but it's only fair that you apply that scrutiny to all agencies involved," he said.

Ball said the United States and Australia had held similar wide-ranging inquiries in the aftermath of major attacks.

Source: AFP/reuters/jt/na/aj

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