Police managed the firearms buy back scheme well – Auditor-General

The Auditor-General has investigated the firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme that was put in place following the deaths of 51 people at the Christchurch mosque shootings, and says that the Police managed the scheme well, but advised that “more work should be done to find out what level of compliance with the scheme has been achieved and the extent to which it has made New Zealanders safer.”

The Minister of police summarised the findings of the report in Gun buyback well run, ongoing work needed

  • The buyback scheme was complex, challenging, and high risk, and Police managed it effectively,
  • 61,332 prohibited firearms were collected, destroyed, or modified, as at February 2020. Every single one of them was tightly traced and accounted for during the process.
  • Compensation of $102 million was paid and the final cost is forecast to be $120 million. Police took a principled and informed approach to compensation prices,
  • Police communicated well with the public, and treated gun owners with empathy and respect. There was a wide range of opportunities for people to hand in guns,
  • No one could be certain how many prohibited firearms existed before the law change. Police estimates, scrutinised by NZIER, suggested it could range from 55,000 to 240,000 firearms. NZIER advised part of the uncertainty was because guns could be easily modified with certain parts to make them a prohibited firearm,
  • There were deficiencies in how information was recorded in the past for military style semi-automatics, or E-category firearms. However Police were successful in locating them and are actively following up outstanding items,
  • The buyback scheme was supported by good systems and processes, with a robust level of oversight,
  • It cost more to administer the scheme than first anticipated. The initial estimate of $18 million grew to $35 million which Police met from internal budgets. The OAG found financial controls were appropriate and there was no wasteful spending,
  • More work is needed to process some applications. The OAG Report lists the number of outstanding applications as at February 2020, but the figures are now lower. Police are expected to keep publicly reporting on this till it is complete,
  • The scheme is important for the well-being of New Zealanders and Police should carry out a formal evaluation to look at compliance with firearms laws and improvements to public safety over time.

From the OAG report:

As part of the response to the attacks, Parliament passed the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act 2019 on 11 April 2019. The Act prohibited firearms with the ability to cause harm in a rapid and highly destructive way from a distance.

The Act, supplemented by a set of associated statutory regulations, included a provision for a firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme (the scheme). The scheme allowed owners of newly prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts to hand them in to the New Zealand Police (the Police) in exchange for compensation. The purpose of the scheme was to improve public safety. We examined how effectively and efficiently the Police implemented the scheme.

We thought it important to provide the Police with real-time feedback so that they could make any improvements the scheme needed quickly. The Police were open to receiving and acting on Ernst & Young’s feedback and recommendations. I commend the Police for the open approach they took to this assurance work.

We make no comment on the policy decision to have a buy-back scheme because commenting on policy decisions is outside of my statutory mandate.

The Police managed the scheme effectively

Implementing the scheme was a complex, challenging, and high-risk task, and the Police had to do it in tight time frames.

The Police communicated with the public well

We found that the Police, assessors, and support staff treated people handing in firearms with empathy and respect. Firearms assessors were trained extensively to make fair decisions on compensating people for their firearms.

The scheme was supported by good systems and processes

The Police used a software system to register and track handed-in firearms and process compensation payments. This system was well designed and thoroughly tested before it went live. Although it mostly worked well, some internet connectivity issues caused delays at some local collection events.

Compensation payments did not exceed what was appropriated, and ACC’s contribution was compatible with its statutory functions

The 2019 Budget included an appropriation of $150 million in Vote Police to fund compensation payments for people handing in their prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts. The Police’s provisional information at 20 December 2019 shows that compensation payments to that date totalled $102 million.

Administering the scheme cost considerably more than estimated

In March 2019, the Police produced an initial estimate that administering the scheme would cost $18 million.

he Police now estimate that, once fully completed, administering the scheme will have cost up to $35 million. This includes costs of tracked staff time, contractors, and goods and services.

The Police need to finish implementing the scheme and make improvements to support their regulatory responsibilities

The Police still have much work to do to complete the scheme.

The process of implementing the scheme is ongoing and has proved more challenging than the Police anticipated. Some firearms still need modifications to comply with the new regulatory requirements, and the Police are still processing applications for endorsements to use newly prohibited firearms for a limited range of purposes. In my view, the Police should continue to report publicly on the performance of the scheme until they have completed this remaining work. The Police should also report to Parliament about the final outcomes of the scheme.

Importantly, the scheme is only one component of firearms regulation the Police have to implement. The Government introduced a Bill on 13 September 2019 that includes a wide range of controls on the use and possession of firearms. Parliament was considering this Bill at the time we were writing this report.

Concluding thoughts

The Police managed the scheme well. They were effective in providing people with a wide range of opportunities to hand in firearms and receive compensation, which was paid in a timely manner. The public was kept safe at local collection events, and the Police made considerable efforts to treat people with empathy and respect. However, there is still much work to be done, and the Police should continue to focus on completing the scheme.

We do not yet know how effective the scheme was in removing all newly prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts from the community. This is because there is no reliable picture of how many newly prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts remain in the community. Without this picture, I cannot determine whether implementing the scheme has delivered value for money.

In my view, given the high level of public interest and expenditure, and the importance of this scheme for the well-being of all New Zealanders, more work should be done to find out what level of compliance with the scheme has been achieved and the extent to which it has made New Zealanders safer.

Read the whole report (52 pages)

 

Christchurch mosque murderer pleads guilty to all charges

This is a surprise, but a good one – Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman pleads guilty to all charges

At the High Court in Christchurch, Brenton Tarrant admitted 51 of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Until today he had denied all of the charges and was scheduled to stand trial in June. The guilty plea means he has become New Zealand’s first convicted terrorist.

The 29 year old showed no emotion as he appeared via audio visual link in the High Court at around 10am.

No explanation for Tarrant’s change of heart was given during today’s hearing. He has been remanded in custody until May.

No sentencing date has been set as the courts continue to grapple with widespread disruption from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Any possible ambitions of using the trial for grandstanding seems to have dissipated.

This is great news for the victims’ families who now don’t have to have the horror brought up time and time again in court.

From the Judge’s minute on today’s hearing that explains some of the proceeding:

[1] Earlier this week the Court received an indication from the defendant’s counsel that he may seek to change his plea to the charges. Yesterday, counsel received formal written instructions to that effect. A formal request was then made by the defendant that he be brought before the Court, in accordance with s 42(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, to change his plea.

[2] As a result of that request the charges have been put to him this morning. He has pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and the charge of committing a terrorist act. He has been convicted of each and every one of
those charges. There is now no need for a trial and the six week hearing set down for June can be vacated.

[12] Despite the defendant having provided his counsel with written instructions of his intention to change his plea to guilty and he having now done so, there was of course no guarantee that when the charges were read to him this morning he would in fact do so. It was therefore necessary to suppress the fact that the matter was being called and the purpose of the hearing.

[13] Section 43 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that where a defendant indicates an intention to plead guilty but does not go ahead and plead guilty, the defendant must be treated in all respects as if he or she had not indicated any intention
to plead guilty, and no comment may be made in any subsequent proceedings of that fact. The fact that a defendant has indicated an intention to plead guilty is not admissible in evidence against a defendant. It follows that any prior publication or
disclosure to the public of the defendant’s intention to plead guilty had the potential to prejudice his trial and taint the jury pool with information that should not be within their knowledge.

[14] For that reason no prior notice was able to be provided to the victims and their families of the defendant’s intention to plead guilty, nor of the convening of this morning’s hearing. Because of that requirement and the circumstances that prevent
them being here today, were I to permit members of the media to immediately report on the content and outcome of this morning’s hearing, it is likely that the first those persons – victims and their families – would hear of this significant development, in which they have so much invested, would be through the media, in the same way as the general public. That would be an undesirable state of affairs and is directly linked with having to proceed in their absence.

[15] To try and avoid that situation or, at least, to some degree mitigate the impact on the victims and their families’ of the lost opportunity to immediately learn of the defendant’s change of plea first-hand by attending Court, I intend to embargo publication of any report about this morning’s hearing for one hour – that is until 11.30 am this morning. The police and Victim Support Advisors have made arrangements in anticipation of the defendant pleading guilty to notify victims and their families as soon as possible. I would ask for your forbearance in permitting them the opportunity to carry out that task. There will be an interim suppression order suppressing publication of the fact of this morning’s hearing and the content and outcome of the
hearing, including of course the fact that the defendant has changed his pleas until 11.30 am.

Click to access R-v-Tarrant-20200326.pdf

How much have the mosque killings changed New Zealand?

Two different views on whether we have been changed by last year’s Christchurch mosque killings.

I’m somewhere in between those views. I don’t feel changed, but some things have changed.

Obviously there has been significant change to our firearm laws, with high powered semi-automatic firearms mostly now banned and handed in. It should also be even harder to get a firearm license, but in my experience the renal process was already rigorous.

There have been large and widespread expressions of sympathy and support for Muslim communities in New Zealand. While the visible expressions have been a change, those expressing would have mostly if not entirely been sympathetic to this sort of tragedy anyway, regardless of who the victims were.

Going by online opinions and exposure of far right extremists intolerance of Muslims and Islam hasn’t changed for some, but they are likely to be a small minority.

In some ways things will have changed for Muslims and Muslim communities in New Zealand – they will now be more cautious and probably fearful of something similar being repeated. That change will be fundamental to them.

To an extent prejudice, intolerance and abuse continues. The amount of this may or may not have changed much.

Every big tragedy changes things, but it’s difficult to judge by how much. A lot also remains much the same.

Ardern is partly right, there has been fundamental changes.

But Hooton is also right, “by and large we were “good-hearted, practical, commonsensical and tolerant” – they majority of us anyway.

 

Two mayors under SFO investigation over donations

The Serious Fraud Office, already prosecuting four people including MP Jami-Lee Ross over donations made to the National Party and investigating  donations made to the NZ First Foundation, has announced two more investigations, one into Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, the other into Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Stuff: Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel under scrutiny as expenses complaint referred to Serious Fraud Office

Pressure is mounting on Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel after police referred a complaint about her election expenses to the Serious Fraud Office.

The SFO said police passed on the matter of Dalziel’s expenses on Tuesday, the organisation receiving the file on Friday.

Dalziel, who defeated Darryll Park and John Minto in October to win her third term as mayor, was criticised for failing to identify donors who made significant contributions to her campaign.

Minto made the complaint to electoral officer Jo Daly in December after Dalziel’s election return listed only her husband, lawyer Rob Davidson, as a donor at a campaign fundraiser in July.

But after coming under public pressure she revealed the names of six people who donated more than $1500 at the dinner by buying auctioned wine for prices higher than market value.

All six have connections with Davidson, and many have links to China.

The mayor has also previously declined to release details of her 2016 election campaign donations, despite the timeframe for any prosecution having expired.

Dalziel is not the first mayor to have difficulties with election expenses. This month the SFO revealed it has seen a 40 per cent increase in cases involving public officials, central and local government, in the past five years.

Stuff: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff referred to Serious Fraud Office over election expenses

The Serious Fraud Office has received a referral from police in relation to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s election expenses.

The SFO said it would be assessing the matter and had no further comment at this time.

Electoral law dictates candidates can accept anonymous donations under $1500, but must disclose the names of donors who contribute more than that sum.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he had “no knowledge of a complaint being referred to the SFO nor of any irregularities”.

In September, Auckland’s electoral officer, Dale Ofsoske, passed on to police a complaint about Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s 2016 election expense declaration.

Goff’s $366,000 fundraising auction declaration did not specify individual donations or purchases, which included the sale at an auction of a book for $150,000. The book had belonged to Goff, a former minister of foreign affairs, and had been signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Police made “a number of inquiries” before the timeframe for any prosecution expired in December, rendering them unable to progress the matter.

Ofsoske told Stuff at the time the complaint was under section 112D of the Local Electoral Act 2001, ‘Filing a false return of electoral donations and expenses’.

Pressure is increasing on changing electoral laws on donations. The problem is, the parties who benefit the most from donations decide on what the rules should be.

The Press Editorial:  It’s time to end the secrecy over political donations

There are now questions over the funding of two of our major political parties, including one that is in Government, and the mayors of our two largest cities, both of whom are former Cabinet ministers.

Even if the process is not corrupt, the secrecy and the manipulation of the rules risks eroding public trust in our democracy.

Is there a better way to fund elections? Dalziel’s mayoral challenger, John Minto, who brought the complaint about Dalziel’s donations to the electoral officer, has suggested an overhaul of donation rules within wider electoral law reform. Minto argues that all donors giving over $50 should be identified, individuals should be named rather than companies and donors should be identified at least one week before the election.

Informed voters could make their choices accordingly.

But in Christchurch, neither Dalziel nor candidate Darryll Park was prepared to do the same. Minto volunteered that he had just one donation over $1500, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

Banning donations and publicly funding candidates and parties instead is not the answer. Rather, New Zealand voters must now start to demand greater transparency.

Listener editorial: A simple way to clean up the political donations mess

The Greens have an idea for cleaning up political donations, starting with “an independent citizens’ assembly” because, they say, “it’s clear that Parliament is incapable of [making] meaningful reforms to itself”.

Here’s a different idea for cleaning up political donations, which is simpler and more cost-effective than the Greens’ proposal: obey the law. Everyone else must, whatever their line of work, and political parties should, too.

Just because parties and individuals sometimes fall foul of electoral law does not automatically mean the law needs “reform”…

Good call. It just means that the current laws need to be applied.

The current prosecutions and investigations are likely to have a significant impact on potential donors as well as parties and politicians. They have been warned.

A robust democracy needs political parties to be sufficiently funded to actively participate in elections. That is not cheap and parties rely on donations to foot it in an election campaign. If the $15,000 limit above which a single donation must be declared – and the $40,000 from one donor in a year – is considered the wrong level, then parties can make a case to set it higher or lower. Whatever the limit, the incentive to give just under the cut-off point will always apply to those who would prefer, for whatever reason, not to have their names disclosed.

The ability to solicit donations is a reasonable way for parties to pay for their activities, and the ability to donate is, equally, a reasonable way for New Zealanders to support their preferred party. The alternative is state funding. Nothing suggests that would find favour with the public.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigations involving National and NZ First, perhaps all parties need to reconsider the training they provide to MPs, staff, officers and volunteers about the laws affecting donations.

I think the biggest problems seem to be at the top of parties and campaigns.

It’s hard to know whether the sudden splurge of SFO investigations is a sign of more questionable donation dealings, or more complaints, or more response to complaints by the SFO. It should at least serve as a warning too parties and candidates in this year’s election.

Applying the current laws may be all that is needed to ensure far better compliance.

Whale Oil inciting anti-Christian/anti-Muslim anger

Whale Oil posts continue to try to drive up anger and intolerance towards Muslims in New Zealand, while trying to claim that Christians are the victims of an unfair lack of sympathy.

After the Christchurch mosque attacks here was an effort made by some, including here on Your NZ, to attack politicians (mainly Jacinda Ardern) and media for what was claimed to be a disparity between reacting to and reporting of one of the only and by far the worst terrorist attacks in new Zealand, compared to one f many attacks in Nigeria in a long running internal war.

From a New Zealand there was little comparison between the two, but that didn’t stop attempts to equate them and to dump on anyone who hadn’t reported them in a similar manner.

Soon after the bombings in Sri Lanka this meme was launched as if it was prepared for. One of the first to attack was nasty UK alt-right activist Katie Hopkins, who slammed Jacinda Ardern for responding differently to an attack in a foreign country to one in the country she is Prime Minister of.

This was supported repeated in social media here. It’s as if they are trying to be some sort of speech police, condemning anyone who doesn’t word their condemnations to their satisfaction. But it also looks like an attempt to paint ‘Christians’ as the victims, and to drive up anger against Islam and by association Muslims.

David Farrar ridiculed the Hopkins effect at Kiwiblog: Defending Jacinda from Katie Hopkins

Jacinda Ardern is not the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. She is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Why on earth would she do anything in response to an attack in another country, except the normal expressions of sympathy?

I still don’t get how people get so worked up over a display of empathy to the Muslim community in New Zealand. It was genuine and a great idea.

The sensible comparison is would she have done the same if another religious minority was slaughtered in New Zealand, and I am sure the answer would be yes. If 50 Jews had been killed while praying at a synagogue in New Zealand, then Ardern would probably have worn a kippah or yarmulke as a sign of respect and empathy.

There’s so much legitimate stuff to criticise Ardern on, that it drives me crazy that people get worked up on this.

Of course being attacked by Katie Hopkins is akin to being savaged by Chloe of Wainuiomata.

That’s an unfair comparison, more Kiwis will have heard of Chloe.

But as has become the norm at Kiwiblog, comments ran in the other direction, likke this well upticked comment from Simonp:

I think the point is that no Muslim leader would show empathy for any Christian attack in the same way and that Jacinda did. Equally, Jacinda wishes the Muslim community happy Ramadan but fails to wish the New Zealand happy Easter. It comes across as fear and pandering and could embolden extremists. Hopkins was challenging Jacinda to make an equally bold statement in support of Christianity.

Not really. Hopkins was attacking Ardern for showing sympathy and empathy for Muslims in New Zealand, but not naming Christians as victims in Sri Lanka in her first brief official response.  Ardern referred to “bombings there on Easter Sunday”, a fairly obvious Christian reference. She also referred to “an attack in Sri Lanka while people were in churches and at hotels”, which seems sensible given the hotel attacks were not obviously targeting one religion over any others.

Nukuleka:

Virtue signalling is virtue signalling and is no sign of genuine grief. It is merely a form of superfluous and superficial egotism. There may indeed be genuine sympathy felt beneath the outward ‘look- at -me’ show, and sincere grief felt – that is for no-one to judge- but there is never a need to wave a flag, or don a hijab in this instance, to let the world know just how sincere and deep your feelings are. Such people deserve mockery.

‘Virue signalling’ is one of those pejoratives that I have difficulty knowing what people actually mean – or if they know what it means. Is Hopkins virtue signalling? She certainly promotes the virtues of Christians and slams the virtues of Muslims, as do a number of commenters at Kiwiblog (some argued against).

While Kiwiblog simmers and seethes beneath the surface in comments threads, Whale Oil also drives a religious divide in posts.

Whale Oil has championed Hopkins for years. They (they now being under the management, guidance  and apparent control of Juana Atkins)  jumped on the Hopkins bashwagon following the Sri Lanka attacks.

‘Whaleoil staff’ posted the first Hopkins tweet as Tweet of the Day on Monday, which haad some predictable responses, including this from ‘Sunshine’:

Christians all over the world are hunted at the moment not because they are Christians, but because they represent western civilisation. Ardern and her ilk want to ‘fundamentally transform’ the west, as Barry Soetoro once said.

That is laden with conspiracy theorising (actually they are not theories, they are dirty memes) – in particular, that it is a clash of civilisations with Christians as the victims.

The following day Atkins posted Things that make me go hmm under ‘SB’ (one of her pseudonyms), where she nitpicked Theresa May tweets on the Christchurch and Sri Lanka attacks, followed by another ridiculous Hopkins quote:

Why does Islam always matter more to Christian leaders?

That doesn’t even make sense to me. It prompted typical (for a tightly controlled forum like Whale Oil) responses, like this from Boondecker:

“Violence against churches and hotels… ” – what an odd thing to say/tweet in the circumstances. There appears to be a very strange but obvious disconnect when you become a political leader. No wonder they’re rated even below car and insurance salesmen in terms of trustworthiness (the mainstream media are the only crowd that’s worse).

“Violence against churches and hotels” is fairly accurate for a brief generalised tweet. ‘Churches’ is synonymous with ‘Christian’:

church
noun
1. a building used for public Christian worship

And several hotels were also bombed.

Yesterday the anger meme was promoted in Growing anger over anti-Christian terror denialism

Anger is growing around the world at the blatant disparity and hypocrisy of the media and political elite in their reactions to terrorism, depending on who the victims are.

Of course no proof is provided that anger is growing anywhere. What this looks like is an attempt to grow anger in New Zealand.

Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. It shouldn’t matter who the innocent victims are: Muslims in a market in Quetta or in a mosque in Christchurch, or Christians on the streets of Rome or in churches in Sri Lanka. But, as we are seeing after the Easter carnage in Sri Lanka, it matters very much to the media-political elite who the victims are.

Christians are way down on the Victim Totem Pole.

Not at Whale Oil, where they are playing the ‘Christians are victims in a clash of civilisations’ card hard.

As per the standard narrative, no matter who is shredded by terrorists’ bombs, the real victims, as far as the media-political elite are concerned, are always Muslims.

That’s just pathetic nonsense.

But it’s dangerous nonsense. Whale Oil, with Atkins leading the charge now, is trying to drive up anger and division between Muslims and Christians.

Whale Oil has also actively promoted gun rights including the ‘right’ to own military style weapons. The blog attracts people who like firearms, and it attracts people who see Christians as victims, who see ‘Western civilisation’ under threat, and see Islam and Muslims as the threat.

As the 50 Christchurch murders showed, it only takes one person to believe this sort of persistent inflammatory claptrap to escalate things into extreme violence.

Probably all of the posts and most of the comments at Whale Oil would fall short of any hate speech laws – certainly the laws we currently have. But the sum of all the parts, the ongoing inciting posts (often multiple in a day) and the comments in support, looks like a campaign of hate and intolerance and division. It is difficult to legislate against that.

But this sort of campaign of fear mongering and hate should be called out for what it is, and should those who are responsible for it.

People directly affected by Christchurch mosque attacks offered permanent residency

Immigration New Zealand is offering a special permanent resident visa for anyone directly affected by the Christchurch mosque shootings, and also for their families.

Christchurch Response (2019) — permanent resident visa

From 24 April 2019, people present during the terrorist attacks in Christchurch and their immediate families can apply for a special permanent resident visa.

Who this visa is for

You can get this visa if you:

  • were present at the Masjid Al Noor or Linwood mosques while they were attacked on 15 March 2019, or
  • are the immediate family member of  someone who was present during the attacks.

You must also have been living in New Zealand on 15 March 2019.

When you apply, we confirm you were at one of the mosques by checking the official New Zealand Police lists of people who were present during the attacks.

There are some exceptions. We cannot give you this visa if you:

  • were a police first responder or emergency worker
  • were here as a tourist, or
  • were visiting for a short time.

Living in New Zealand

You are living in New Zealand if, on 15 March 2019, you held a resident, work or student visa. If you held another type of  visa, you need to show us that when the attacks happened, New Zealand was your main home.

Family members who are eligible

Some family members can get this visa if they were living in New Zealand on 15 March 2019. Which family members can apply depends on whether the family member present at the attacks was an adult or a dependent child.

Adults present at the attacks

If you are the family member of an adult who was at one of the mosques, you can get this visa if you are their:

  • partner — married, civil union or de facto
  • dependent child
  • partner’s dependent child
  • parent or parent’s partner.

Children present at the attacks

If you are the family member of a dependent child who was at one of the mosques, you can get this visa if you are their:

  • brother or sister, and still dependent on your parents
  • parent or
  • grandparent.

If you have a resident visa

If you already have a resident visa, you can apply for a permanent resident visa. You do not need to have held a resident visa for 2 years before you apply.

If you are here unlawfully

You cannot apply for a Christchurch Response (2019) Visa unless you have a valid New Zealand visa. If you are in New Zealand and do not have a valid visa, you may request a visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act.

RNZ – Christchurch terror attack: Families offered option to stay permanently

A spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, Jamaal Green, said this is a generous gesture and it speaks to the government’s response to this attack.

“When your ordinary situation and expectations have been shattered, you have a whole load of uncertainties.

“In removing that and in offering this, it stabilises it and takes away some of those issues that will concern many people”.

Mr Green said this will particularly help ease the burden for grieving widows who lost the main breadwinner of the family in the terror attack.

This is a sensible and compassionate option for those affected by the mosque shootings.

 

Sri Lanka bombings: Christchurch retaliation suggested, ISIS claim responsibility

A politician has told the Sri Lankan Parliament that the bombings there in the weekend were a retaliation for the Christchurch mosque attacks on 15 April, but has given no details.

The Prime Ministers of both Sri Lanka and New Zealand say that this claim is ‘premature’.

ISIS have claimed responsibility for the bombings, but it is not clear to what extent, if any.

RNZ: Easter Sunday bombings were retaliation against New Zealand mosque attack – Minister

A Sri Lanka official says initial investigation shows Easter Sunday bombings were a retaliation against New Zealand mosque attack.

A series of coordinated blasts in churches and hotels hit Sri Lanka on Sunday leaving 321 people dead and 500 injured.

“The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament.

“It was done by National Thawheed Jama’ut along with JMI,” he said, referring to another local group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

However, the Associated Press said Mr Wijewardene made the statement about retaliation “without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from”.

So it isn’t clear if this is based on information or facts, or if it is just speculation.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “We have seen reports of the statement from the Sri Lankan Minister of state for defence, alleging a link between the the Easter Sunday terrorist attack and the March 15 attack in Christchurch.

“We understand the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages. New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based.

While it was always possible the Sri Lankan bombings could be in some way linked to the Christchurch shootings I doubt that is the whole explanation.

Finding seven people wiling to be suicide bombers, training and equipping them and planning and carrying out a co-ordinated attack would take time, weeks perhaps, but likely months. Christchurch could just be being used as a convenient excuse, with the connection being used to stir up division and fear.

ABC News:  ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter bombings that killed over 300

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a wave of coordinated bombings at churches and high-end hotels across Sri Lanka.

The terrorist organization offered no evidence to support that assertion, which was initially announced in a statement in Arabic published by its Amaq news agency on Tuesday, saying the attackers were “among the fighters of the Islamic State,” according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, a company that tracks extremist groups.

ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement identifying the seven suicide bombers who detonated explosive-laden vests at the churches and hotels and a housing complex on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged the claim during a press conference in the capital, Colombo.

“All that we knew earlier is that there were foreign links and that this could not have been done just locally,” Wickremesinghe said. “There has been training done and a coordination which we [have] not seen earlier.”

According to multiple U.S. sources briefed on the investigation, ISIS is believed to have been involved in the Sri Lanka attacks in a supportive capacity, but it’s not clear to what degree.

There is always a risk of escalation of terrorism. Violent extremists aim to generate as much publicity and provoke as much fear as possible. Terrorism was established as a global threat with the 9-11 attacks in New York in 2001, and the subsequent retaliation by the US in Iraq that began in 2003 but spread to other countries in the Middle East.

Violence begets violence. There will always be a risk of mass shootings, of bombings, and of other atrocities, but the best way to minimise the risks is to fight violence and provocation with peace and dignified defiance, along with vigilant security systems.

We know that ISIS and other violent extremists are intent on provoking bigger, wider conflict. That risks of that must be minimised, which means minimising irrational and over the top reactions.

 

Hmm – Notre Dame conspiracies linked to Christchurch conspiracies

How the far right is trying to turn Notre Dame into the next Reichstag Fire

It didn’t take long. Within hours of the news breaking of a devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, far-right leaders were leaping on it, using dog whistles and fabrications to promulgate their theories on white supremacy and the perceived superiority of Western civilisation.

A large subset also hinted or directly asserted that the fire was caused by Muslims – possibly in retribution for the Christchurch shooting.

This contradicts all media reports and the word of the French police. Although French officials told media outlets that the fire was accidental as early as 5:19 am New Zealand time – less than an hour after the catastrophe began and while the blaze was still burning – a wide range of far-right figures were quick to cast doubt.

Stefan Molyneux, the Canadian provocateur whose speaking tour in New Zealand last year was cancelled following protests, started off by “just asking questions” about the safety procedures at the cathedral.

Also on Twitter, prominent “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec – who at one time championed the Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories – discussed his own doubts. He tweeted and later deleted, “I notice [US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar] is awfully quiet today,” as if the Muslim congresswoman had personally set the fire.

He later joined a number of right-wing commentators condemning Fox News host Shepard Smith. Smith was interviewing former French politician and convicted libeller Philippe Karsenty when the latter suggested the fire was intentional. “Of course, you will hear the story of the political correctness which will tell you it’s probably an accident,” Karsenty said.

Smith was quick to shut down Karsenty, refuting his baseless allegations and then kicking him off the show. Posobiec and others denounced Smith for this.

White supremacist Richard Spencer … posted on Tuesday: “If the Nortre [sic] Dame fire serves to spur the White man into action – to sieze [sic] power in his countries, in Europe, in the world – then it will have served a glorious purpose and we will one day bless this catastrophe.”

ll these tactics serve a single purpose: promulgating far-right ideology and recruiting new adherents. The far-right wants to identify Notre Dame as a pinnacle achievement of “Western civilisation” – a dog whistle term for white civilisation. In many cases, this is blatant. In his YouTube video, Molyneux described Notre Dame as a Western achievement, then went on to argue that white men were responsible for “way more than 90 percent of scientific innovations from 800 BC to 1950 AD,” a reference to a debunked statistic from race scientist Charles Murray.

By synonymising Notre Dame and Western civilisation, the far-right wants to convince those who understand their underlying meaning that white culture is in danger, also known as the white genocide conspiracy theory.

This theory posits that white people are at risk of being replaced by increased diversity in majority white countries and increased tolerance of racial and cultural differences. Notre Dame has become, literally overnight, an icon of white genocide – a Reichstag Fire for a generation of white supremacists desperate to believe they are the victims.

A select few have gone even further and directly connected the accident in Paris to the Christchurch terror attack. Noting that the fire began on April 15 Paris time and the shootings occurred on March 15 New Zealand time, low-profile conspiracy theorists have argued that the fire was retribution.

Deeper down the rabbit hole, some on the far-right Twitter-style platform Gab argued that the Christchurch attack was a hoax, and that the fire was either started by the same people who organised Christchurch, or that the Muslims who they assume to have started the fire were tricked by the false flag.

Of course, none of these claims have basis in fact. It may seem to most to be very obviously nonsense, but the month since Christchurch has shown us that plenty of people will believe what a majority consider absurd.

How the far right is trying to turn Notre Dame into the next Reichstag Fire

And what looks like becoming conspiracy central in New Zealand, Whale Oil, has also been been trying to stoke the conspiracy fires, usually in posts like Things that make me go hmm – ‘hmm’ is code there for disingenuous promoting of crap ‘theories’.

 

 

A beautiful garden – Asalamu Aleykum

This must be one of the highlights from the Remembrance Ceremony in Christchurch today – from a speech by Farid Ahmed, whose wife, Husna, was killed in the Al Noor mosque while trying to save him.

Jacinda Ardern also did very well again. Prime Minister’s speech at the National Remembrance Service

What words adequately express the pain and suffering of 50 men, women and children lost, and so many injured?

What words capture the anguish of our Muslim community being the target of hatred and violence?

What words express the grief of a city that has already known so much pain?

I thought there were none. And then I came here and was met with this simple greeting.

Asalamu Aleykum. Peace be upon you.

They were simple words, repeated by community leaders who witnessed the loss of their friends and loved ones.

Simple words, whispered by the injured from their hospital beds.

Simple words, spoken by the bereaved and everyone I met who has been affected by this attack.

Asalamu Aleykum. Peace be upon you.

Asalamu Aleykum. Peace be upon you.

Royal Commission of Inquiry into security agencies

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the country’s security agencies, in response to the Christchurch terror attacks.

RNZ:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces details of inquiry into security services

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced details of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into security agencies after the Christchurch mosque attacks.

She said, while New Zealanders and Muslim communities were still grieving, they were also quite rightly asking questions about how the terror attack was able to take place.

The inquiry will look at what could or should have been done to prevent the attack, Ms Ardern said.

It will look at the Government Communications Security Bureau (GSCB), the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), police, Customs, Immigration and any other relevant agencies, Ms Ardern said.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GSCB) and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) have been criticised over an apparent lack of monitoring of right-wing extremists.

It may be that there was little or nothing that could have been done to protect against this month’s attacks, but it is good to check out the performance of the security agencies, the GCSB, the SIS and the Police. It should ensure that the chances of a repeat are lessened.