By Associated Press
The leafy New Zealand city where a self-proclaimed racist fatally shot 50 people at mosques during Friday prayers is known for its picturesque meandering river and English heritage.
For decades, Christchurch has also been the centre of the country’s small but persistent white supremacist movement.
An expert on such fringe groups says it’s probably more than coincidence that the accused mosque shooter, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, settled in the region, known for a whiter demographic than the country’s north, after frequently travelling abroad in 2016-2018 in what appears to have been an extreme-right pilgrimage.
He went mostly to areas of Europe with a long history of sectarian dispute, including clashes between Renaissance Europe and the Ottoman Empire and the breakup of Yugoslavia following its ethnic and religious conflicts.
The attack has upended New Zealand’s image as one of the world’s safest and most tolerant countries.
It also has highlighted apparent failings by security and intelligence services to view white supremacists as a real threat or to take seriously warnings from Muslim groups of a rise in Islamophobic and xenophobic incidents in recent years.
Tarrant planned his attack on two mosques meticulously and had resolved two years earlier to kill Muslims, according to a manifesto he published moments before the massacre.
He actively planned the Christchurch shootings for the past three months, he said in the manifesto posted online and emailed to the office of New Zealand’s prime minister minutes before driving to his first target, the golden-domed Al Noor mosque.
Police say they are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but may have had support and are investigating that possibility.
He had five guns, two of which were converted into semi-automatic weapons. It’s likely that at least some were legally purchased online from a Christchurch gun store.