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March 19, 2019

NZ mosque killer visited Israel in 2016

Top Story

March 19, 2019

JERUSALEM/CHRISTCHURCH/SYDNEY: The Australian white supremacist accused of carrying out a massacre at two mosques in New Zealand briefly visited Israel in 2016, Israeli officials said Monday.

Brenton Tarrant arrived on a three-month tourist visa and stayed in Israel for nine days in October 2016, immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said. She was not able to provide further details on the visit by the 28-year-old.

Tarrant has been chargedwith murder over the worst modern-day massacre in New Zealand in which 50 people were killed at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday. Social media posts suggested his travels included trips as far afield as Pakistan and North Korea. He had also visited Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria, among other countries.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said Monday that Tarrant had visited the country for tourism, and that authorities probing his trip from November 9-15 last year had found no suspicious activities.

Tarrant had recently lived in Dunedin, some 350 kilometres from Christchurch. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Monday that Tarrant had spent only 45 days in Australia over the past three years and was not on any terror watch lists.

Meanwhile, New Zealand will tighten gun laws in the wake of its worst modern-day massacre, the government said Monday, as it emerged that the white supremacist accused of carrying out the killings at two mosques will represent himself in court.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her coalition was unified on the need to reduce the availability of the kind of weapons used by Brenton Tarrant as he went room to room shooting Muslims gathered for Friday prayers. "We have made a decision as a cabinet, we are unified," she said, flanked by her coalition partner and deputy prime minister, Winston Peters.

Peters, whose New Zealand First party has previously opposed changes, said he backed the prime minister fully. "The reality is that after one pm on Friday our world changed forever, and so will our laws," he said.

Ardern, the youthful premier who has become the face of the nation´s tragedy, said there would be an inquiry into the horrifying attack, as questions swirl over whether intelligence agencies should have spotted warning signs.

The role of social media has also come under the spotlight, after the gunman livestreamed his rampage on Facebook. A teenager, whose name cannot be published, appeared in court Monday charged with distributing that footage.

Family and friends outside Al Noor mosque -- the scene of the largest massacre -- held a sunset prayer session, with their mournful cries echoing through a park as locals looked on. "It just happened to be the time of our evening prayer. Anywhere you are, you can just pray anywhere," Saiyad Raza, who had travelled from Auckland to bury his cousin who died in the shootings, said.

Earlier, a Maori cleansing ceremony was performed at the mosque, bringing together indigenous Kiwis, Muslim leaders and local officials. Dozens of students then paid their respects, with many coming together for a haka -- a traditional Maori ceremonial dance that has been performed by groups across New Zealand in the wake of killings.

And in Auckland, students at Orewa College gathered to form a heart and the message "Kia Kaha" -- "stay strong" in Maori. The organisers of New Zealand´s largest gun show -- the Kumeu Militaria Show, near Auckland -- announced Monday they had cancelled the event in the wake of the massacre and because of "elevated security risks".

David Tipple, the managing director of Gun City, whose online store sold Tarrant four weapons, said he felt no responsibility for the killings. "We detected nothing extraordinary about this licence holder," he told reporters.

Richard Peters, who represented the alleged killer during the hearing, said the 28-year-old "wants to be self-represented in this case". "The way he presented was rational and someone who was not suffering any mental disability. He seemed to understand what was going on," Peters said.

Under New Zealand law, if Tarrant pleads not guilty his case would normally go to trial, raising the possibility that he could face survivors and victims´ families in court.

Mustafa Farouk, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, told reporters he had faith in the system. "As a community, we would like that person to go through the process, the due process, and to be given all his rights," he said. "We believe in the justice system here and we know it will do what is right."

Reigning Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders, who play in Christchurch, said Monday they would consider changing their name after criticism that it was historically insensitive.

Scarcely 18 months in office, Jacinda Ardern faces an era-defining tragedy for her country -- and is winning praise for meeting the moment with a deft mix of empathy and resolve. Tragedies like the murder of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch can shape nations. They can also derail political careers and cement a leader´s place in the history books -- for good or for ill.

Within hours of the mosque massacres, Ardern was in Christchurch, wearing a headscarf in a poignant show of solidarity with victims´ families. The next day, in the capital Wellington, she put on the headscarf again and was seen in emotional embraces with members of the shellshocked Muslim community.

The heartfelt expressions of solidarity and shared pain embodied the sense of vulnerability many Kiwis now feel, and offered a powerful rebuttal of the politics of hate. "She never had to deal with something so horrific," said Vicki Spencer, of the University of Otago´s politics department, "nor has any other New Zealand Prime Minister."

But she quickly moved beyond the role of consoler-in-chief to confront the challenges posed by an Australian white supremacist who, unbeknownst to any security agency, was able to come to her country, legally purchase weapons of war, and devastate the nation.

Within hours of the tragedy, Ardern started tackling those challenges, declaring: "I can tell you right now, our gun laws will change." "I know that there is, understandably, grief in New Zealand right now, but there is anger too, there are questions that need to be answered," she said later in one of many televised interviews, the tone both reassuring and firm.

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