CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand

FILE PHOTO: National remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 17, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday her coalition government would not proceed with a proposal for a capital gains tax (CGT) due to a lack of consensus and ruled out ever implementing such a tax under her leadership.

The surprise decision went against the position Ardern’s Labour Party had taken for more than a decade. The party had campaigned to bring in a tax on capital gains income to ensure fairness and balance.

A tax working group appointed by Ardern in February recommended a capital gains tax.

“All parties in the government entered into this debate with different perspectives and, after significant discussion, we have ultimately been unable to find a consensus,” Ardern said in a statement.

“While I have believed in a CGT, it’s clear many New Zealanders do not. That is why I am also ruling out a capital gains tax under my leadership in the future,” she said.

The proposed capital gains tax covered assets such as residential rental properties, land and buildings, business assets, intangible property and shares.

Ardern came to power in 2017 promising to pour money into social services and rein in economic inequality. Her government has lifted minimum wages and boosted benefits for poor families but business confidence has been sinking.

The debate over the new tax has been raging for months, with government critics and some property experts warning that it could hurt the housing market by compelling some investors to sell to avoid the tax.

New Zealand does not generally tax income in the form of capital gains.

Shares in retirement village operators, which own property assets and benefit from capital gains in asset sales, rose. Ryman Healthcare rose as much as 3.6 percent after the announcement.

“The CGT debate wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and over 18 months weakened our economy by scaring businesses owners, investors and mums & dads out of getting ahead,” opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Paul Tait)

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FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed in a gunshop in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

April 12, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand’s state pension fund will sell off investments of NZ$19 million ($13 million) in makers of weapons outlawed by tough new firearms laws following the country’s worst peacetime mass shooting, it said on Friday.

Lawmakers voted almost unanimously this week to ban military-style semi-automatic guns and assault rifles less than a month after a lone gunman used them to kill 50 worshippers in attacks on mosques in Christchurch.

“Companies involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts prohibited under New Zealand law have been excluded from the NZ$41 billion NZ Super Fund,” the fund said on its website.

The move was a response to the new law, it said, and identified holdings in seven companies to be affected by its decision, including American Outdoor Brands Corp, Sturm, Ruger & Co Inc and NOF Corp.

The others are Vista Outdoor Inc, OLIN Corp, Richemont and Daicel Corp.

Others may be identified in future, added the fund, which gave no timeframe for its divestments.

Makers of tobacco and some other munitions are already excluded from its investment mandate.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the Christchurch attacks.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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FILE PHOTO: AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in the garage of a home outside Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is seen in the garage of a home outside Christchurch, New Zealand, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

April 11, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top court should dismiss a Czech challenge to tighter EU controls on firearms introduced after the 2015 Paris attacks, the court’s legal adviser said on Thursday.

The Czech Republic maintains that the tougher European Commission rules, which make it harder for EU citizens to obtain semi-automatic rifles, were unduly restrictive for law-abiding gun-owners such as hunters.

It also says the Commission rules encroached on crime prevention policy, a matter for the national governments of EU member states.

“The court should dismiss the Czech Republic’s action in its entirety,” Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston said in a statement.

She said the EU directive mainly concerned the free movement of firearms and that this had an impact on crime prevention, but did not harmonize national crime prevention policies.

She added that the Commission did look into the impact of its planned rules and that its actions, notably reclassifying certain firearms as prohibited goods, were in line with the principle of proportionality.

Judges at the European Court of Justice follow the advice of their advocate generals in the majority of cases although they are not bound to do so. The ECJ generally issues rulings within 2-4 months of an advocate general’s opinion.

In 2017, the EU toughened laws against purchasing certain semi-automatic rifles like those used by Islamic State militants in the Paris attacks, and also made it easier to track weapons in national databases.

The Czech Republic filed a lawsuit arguing that the directive would just shift weapons to the black market and do nothing to increase security in the country, where hunting is a popular pastime and gun attacks are rare.

After 50 people were killed in a shooting at a New Zealand mosque on March 15, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned the sale of all military-style, semi-automatic and assault rifles. The New Zealand parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday for tough new firearms laws.

(This story has been refiled to fix typo to “for” in last paragraph)

(Reporting by Clare Roth; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Heinrich)

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FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed in a gunshop in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: Firearms and accessories are displayed at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

April 11, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand police expect tens of thousands of firearms to be surrendered in a guns buy-back scheme after parliament passed tough new firearm laws in the wake of the country’s worst peacetime mass shooting.

Lawmakers in New Zealand voted almost unanimously on Wednesday to change gun laws, less than a month after a lone gunman killed 50 people in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch.

The new legislation bars the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns. This includes the gun used by the suspect in the Christchurch shooting.

It granted an amnesty until Sept. 30 for people to surrender prohibited items. More than 300 weapons had already been handed in, police minister Stuart Nash told parliament.

Police Deputy Police Commissioner Michael Clement told a news conference on Thursday that they are not sure how many guns they would receive as New Zealand has no law requiring people to register firearms.

“Its a great unknown question…everybody appreciates that there is no register of firearms with regards to the type of firearms we are talking about,” Clement said.

“So It could be in the tens of thousands, it could be more,” he added.

There are about 1.2-1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, according to gunpolicy.org. Of these, the government has said that a record of licenses show 13,500 firearms are military style semi-automatics (MSSAs). But the number could be higher.

Clement said details are being worked out of the gun buy-back scheme and he urged gun owners in possession of the prohibited firearms to register online.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has estimated that the gun buy-backs would cost the government between NZ$100-200 million but other government ministers have warned that the costs could be higher depending on how many guns are handed to the police.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the Christchurch attacks on March 15.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Flowers and a New Zealand national flag are seen at a memorial as tributes to victims of the mosque attacks near Linwood mosque in Christchurch
Flowers and a New Zealand national flag are seen at a memorial as tributes to victims of the mosque attacks near Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 10, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All but one member of New Zealand’s parliament voted on Wednesday to change gun laws, less than a month after deadly shooting attacks on two Christchurch mosques that killed 50 people.

The gun reform bill, which passed 119-1 after its final reading in parliament, must now receive royal assent from the governor general before it becomes law.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with 50 murder charges after the attack on two mosques on March 15.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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The Wider Image: Lives forever changed by Christchurch shootings
A flower tribute is seen outside Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people were killed by a suspected white supremacist during Friday prayers on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 9, 2019

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi warned on Tuesday that a deadly attack on two New Zealand mosques was the result of the worst toxicity in politics and media toward refugees, migrants and foreigners that he had witnessed in more than 30 years.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15, killing 50 worshippers and wounding dozens of people.

A suspected white supremacist from Australia has been charged with 50 counts of murder.

Grandi told the U.N. Security Council that the state of discussions globally about refugees and migrants “should be of concern to us all.” He did not specifically blame anyone.

“I have never seen such toxicity, such poison in the language of politics, in media, in social media, even in everyday discussions and conversations around this issue,” Grandi told the 15-member council during a meeting on the global refugee situation.

“Toxicity that focuses – sadly, tragically – often on refugees, on migrants, on foreigners,” he said. “What we have seen in Christchurch, New Zealand, is the result also of that toxic language of politics.”

In the wake of the shootings, Australia has been gripped by acrimonious debate about both its past race policies and whether recent political discourse about immigration and Islam had any role to play in the accused gunman’s radicalization.

The man said – in a manifesto distributed online just before the Christchurch attack – that he formed his racist beliefs on the internet and downplayed his links to Australia, saying he was radicalized abroad.

The manifesto also praised U.S. President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp responded at the time: “It’s outrageous to even make that connection between this deranged individual that committed this evil crime to the president, who had repeatedly condemned bigotry, racism, and has made it very clear that this is a terrorist attack.”

Muslims worldwide have praised New Zealand’s response to the massacre, with many singling out Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s gesture of wearing a headscarf to meet victims’ families and urging the country to unite with the call: “We are one.”

Grandi described the response by the people and leadership of New Zealand as “exemplary.”

“Respond to these toxic trends in a firm and organized manner, restate the values that underpin the solidarity that we must provide to refugees and reaffirm … that our societies will not be really prosperous stable and peaceful if they do not include all,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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The Wider Image: Lives forever changed by Christchurch shootings
A flower tribute is seen outside Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people were killed by a suspected white supremacist during Friday prayers on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 8, 2019

By Edgar Su and Charlotte Greenfield

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Reuters) – On a small farm on the outskirts of Christchurch in New Zealand, Omar Nabi digs a small hole and sharpens a knife as he prepares to slaughter a sheep as a blessing to his father – a victim of the mass killings at the Al Noor mosque.

Hunched between his father’s collection of rusted cars, Nabi softly said a prayer and slit the animal’s neck, facing it towards Mecca. He removed the pelt and prepared the meat for cooking. Blood was pooled in a hole where he plans to plant a tree. No part of the animal was wasted, he said.

Nabi first slaughtered a sheep when he was 11, each step supervised by his father. Nabi is now 43.

“My father was my whole life… I give thanks for my father, he’s done a lot,” he said. His father, Haji Daoud Nabi, had hoped to build a small mosque on the property, a plan his son intends to complete. “This means a lot to me, Dad put a piece of heaven in Christchurch.”

Several weeks after an attack on Muslim worshippers that killed fifty people and left dozens wounded, the lives of survivors and the families of victims have changed irrevocably. Some survivors feel emboldened, others are haunted by memories of the attack and haven’t been able to return to the mosque.

Burying loved ones brought relief to many families, but reminders of their losses are never far away, from an empty seat at a dinner table to the prospect of Ramadan celebrations in a few weeks.

The shootings on March 15 shook New Zealand and prompted the government to tighten gun laws and launch a powerful national inquiry into the country’s worst peacetime massacre. An Australian man, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 murders and 39 attempted murders.

(For a photo essay of survivors of the attack and victim’s families, please click this link: https://reut.rs/2WSIG1M)

IN LIMBO

Survivor Mark Rangi, 59, feels his future is in limbo following wounds to both legs. The New Zealander, who lives in Sydney, had never been to Al Noor Mosque before the attack.

After visiting relatives in a nearby town, he had attended the mosque before his return flight to Sydney so he could seek spiritual guidance on the direction of his life.

Instead, he ended up running for his life, bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds in his legs. After surgery, he is able to walk slowly but Rangi is doubtful he can return to work as a baggage handler in Sydney.

“I wouldn’t have a clue (what to do now). I want to be independent,” he said from a youth hostel where he is staying, overlooking piles of flowers placed in a makeshift memorial. “I’m very lucky that I didn’t get injured worse, so I’m grateful for that.”

SOMETHING’S MISSING

In a one-storey house a short drive from Al Noor mosque, Zahra Fathy turned pages in a photo album compiled by her husband Hussein Moustafa, who died in the massacre. As part of the customary four-month and 10 day-mourning period, she wears simple, unadorned clothing and spends most of her time at home.

“It’s hard to stay thinking about what happened, so I have to escape this and think about what’s next,” she said.

Her husband had spent time at the mosque on most days, organizing its library of religious texts and tending to a vegetable garden, which provided the community with pumpkins, rocket and broccoli.

She is now considering visiting her extended family in Alexandria, Egypt, where she and her husband both grew up, for Ramadan.

“Being all on your own during Ramadan is tough,” said her son, Mohammed, who flew home from a new job in Saudi Arabia on learning of his father’s death.

After some trepidation, Mohammed worshipped last Friday at the Al Noor mosque for the first time since his father’s death.

“I’m praying in the same area, the same corner that my dad used to pray. I wanted to do that,” he said. “It was a bit emotional at first, I got a few tears, it was quite tough. I kept imagining him next to me, I kept looking around, looking for the bullet holes.”

Before Ramadan, Zahra and her family plan to mark the graduation of her youngest son, Zeyad, 22, who also returned to Christchurch from a new job, in Canberra. “He was very, very proud of you,” Zahra told her son.

The family had an active WhatsApp messaging group to stay in touch. Zeyad had shared a recent trip to Europe, where his father had also traveled as a young man, and to Egypt. His father had provided long history lessons on the places Zeyad visited and was overjoyed his son was meeting his Egyptian relatives. Now, the WhatsApp group is not so active.

“It feels like something’s missing… It’s hard to explain, I think it just feels weird if we use it,” Zeyad said.

SENSE OF MISSION

In a sleepy Christchurch suburb where he owns a homeopathy business, Farid Ahmed has worked to bring his community and his country together. Farid, a wheelchair user, survived the shooting but his wife Husna was killed.

He spent one recent Sunday going door-to-door to thank his neighbors for their support. 

When his neighbors heard of his wife’s death, “they came running… they were in tears,” he said. “That was wonderful support and expression of love.”

His message of forgiveness and peace to avoid “a heart that is boiling like a volcano” has made headlines around the world and was broadcast in a heartfelt speech at a national memorial service.

“I admire him. I couldn’t do that,” said a neighbor, a Christian who lives four doors down. “We’ve learnt a lot about Islam over the last few days… (it’s) crazy how similar our two faiths are.”

COPING

Across the city, survivor Sardar Faisal has thrown himself with vigor into helping co-ordinate dozens of volunteers who prepare meals and run errands for the widows of victims of the attack. As a result, he realized he was not spending much time with his own wife and young children.

“Maybe it’s survivor’s guilt, maybe it’s empathy because whenever I visit the affected families, the only thing I think about is that when I was in that area, they were being shot, the bullets that I heard,” he said over tea at a friend’s house.

On the day of the shootings, Faisal was late to the mosque, an uncharacteristic trait that possibly spared his life. When the gunman burst in and started shooting worshippers at prayer, Faisal was in the bathroom, just about to wash in preparation for prayer and so was able to hide from the gunman.

What he saw and heard that day haunts him, he said. He struggles to focus at work and suffers nightmares as deadly scenarios, almost like a video game, run on repeat through his sleep.

REBORN

Alongside sorrow and pain, others feel the close call has reinvigorated their lives.

“It gave me courage,” said Hazem Mohammed, originally from Baghdad, who played dead in Al Noor mosque as the gunman stood over him, wounded and surrounded by the bodies of fellow worshippers.

“I cry for two reasons. The first half because I lost friends, they are gone,” he said. “And the other tears… these tears are for joy, because I was reborn again on Friday the 15th of March 2019.”

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Edgar Su in Christchurch; additional reporting by Jill Gralow, Natasha Howitt and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Neil Fullick)

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Flowers and signs are pictured at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near a police line outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO – Flowers and signs are pictured at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near a police line outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

April 8, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Royal Commission inquiry into deadly shooting attacks on two Christchurch mosques would report back to the government by December 10, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The inquiry would look into the suspected gunman’s activities, use of social media and international connections, as well as whether there was “inappropriate” priority setting in state counter terrorism resources, Ardern said in a statement.

A suspected white supremacist has been charged with 50 counts of murder over the Christchurch shootings on March 15 and will next appear in court in June. Ardern has said the man had not been on any watch lists in New Zealand or Australia.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

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People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch
People visit a memorial site for victims of the shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

April 4, 2019

By Praveen Menon

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Australian Brenton Tarrant will appear in court in New Zealand on Friday, where the suspected white supremacist faces more charges after his arrest for mass shootings at two mosques last month that killed 50 worshippers and wounded dozens.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15.

Tarrant has been moved to New Zealand’s only maximum security prison in Auckland and will appear at the Christchurch High Court through a video link at 1000 a.m. (2100 GMT).

Tarrant, 28, was charged with one murder the day after the attack and remanded without a plea. Police said they would bring 49 more murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges against Tarrant when he appears in court.

Prison officials say Tarrant is under 24-hour surveillance with no access to media, according to news reports.

Friday’s appearance will largely be procedural and Tarrant will not be required to enter a plea, a High Court judge said in court minutes this week.

Tarrant declined a court appointed lawyer and media said he wants to represent himself.

Legal experts have said Tarrant may try to use the hearings as a platform to present his ideology and beliefs.

Although journalists may attend and take notes, media coverage will be restricted. Judge Cameron Mander said media could only publish pixellated images of Tarrant that obscure his face.

‘ALL HUMANS’

The massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled terrorism, was New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass killing.

Dozens of representatives from around the world joined a national memorial service last week attended by Ardern and tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

Muslims worldwide have praised New Zealand’s response to the massacre, with many singling out Ardern’s gesture of wearing a headscarf to meet victim’s families and urging the country to unite with the call, “We are one.”

Thousands of visitors to the reopened Al Noor mosque, where 42 people were killed, have offered condolences and sought to learn more about Islam, said Israfil Hossain, who recites the daily call to prayer there.

“They are coming from far just to say sorry…although they never did anything to us,” said Hossain, 26.

On Thursday, a group of Carmelite nuns stood for the first time inside a mosque, holding back tears as they talked with worshippers about the two faiths.

“Everybody has their own problems and they have their own ideas about religions, and that’s fine, and we should all have that, we’re all different,” said one nun, Sister Dorothea.

“But we’re all humans and that’s the most important thing, our humanity.”

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial site for victims of the mosque shootings, at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO – Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial site for victims of the mosque shootings, at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 4, 2019

By Byron Kaye and Tom Allard

SYDNEY (Reuters) – From its clubhouses in Melbourne and Sydney, the Lads Society promotes drug-free living and exercise, as well as “white resistance” and Islamophobia, according to online statements and interviews with two of its leaders.

One of Australia’s most high profile extremist groups, its members last year infiltrated the youth arm of the National Party, part of the ruling coalition government, before being exposed and ejected due to their far right views.

Now, the group has come to prominence again – and to the attention of security agencies – after a gunman shot 50 people dead at two New Zealand mosques.

In the hours after the shootings, the Lads Society’s private Facebook page lit up as its members discussed the attack and the man arrested and charged with murder, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, according to five screenshots of the Facebook messages which were provided by a person with access to the group and reviewed by Reuters.

“He had been on the scene for a while,” said Tom Sewell, founder of the Lads Society, according to the previously undisclosed messages on the Lads Society’s Facebook page.

“He made heaps on Bitcoin and paid for his own holidays, I spoke to him back in 2017 when he was donating money to everyone,” added Sewell.

In a later public statement, Sewell said he and Lads Society leaders were interviewed about the Christchurch attacks by the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s domestic spy agency.

ASIO said it does not comment on specific individuals, intelligence or operational matters but was alert to the threat from people with “extreme right-wing ideologies”. The Australian Federal Police also declined to comment when asked about any ties Tarrant had to the Lads Society.

Sewell declined to comment on Tarrant or whether he knew him, and his messages provided no further details.

Tarrant, who is now in custody and has said he plans to represent himself, was not available for comment.

The Lads Society’s page was shut down after Facebook targeted white nationalists in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. Reuters was unable to verify the claims on the since-deleted Facebook page.

    However, Sewell’s messages to the private group on the Lads Society Facebook page, which carried the same profile photo as a photo posted on Sewell’s Instagram account, add to evidence Tarrant was engaged with Australia’s far right.

On the 8Chan message board minutes before the attack, Tarrant posted links to a livestream video of the attack and said: “You are all top blokes and the best bunch of cobbers a man could ask for.” Cobber is Australian slang for friend, and a term popular among Australian white nationalists.

As Australia confronts the uncomfortable truth that Tarrant was one of its own, the country has been gripped by acrimonious debate about both its past race policies and whether recent political discourse about immigration and Islam had any role to play in his radicalisation.

In the space of a few minutes outside a Sydney mosque the day after the Christchurch shootings, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison encapsulated the country’s contradictory identity.

“We are a tolerant, multicultural society, the most successful immigration country on the planet,” he said, before pivoting to a darker undercurrent. “These white supremacist, white separatist views, are not new. I mean, these sentiments have sadly existed in Australia for hundreds of years.”

OFF THE RADAR

Tarrant grew up in the small Australian city of Grafton, where he worked as a gym instructor and developed a passion for gaming and computers, according to local media reports citing the gym owner and his grandmother.

In a “manifesto” distributed online just before the attack, Tarrant said he formed his racist beliefs on the internet and downplayed his links to Australia, saying he was radicalised abroad.

He acted alone, the manifesto said, although he said he had donated to far-right groups from an inheritance and a cryptocurrency windfall.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz last week confirmed his country’s far-right Identitarian Movement had received 1,500 euros ($1,690) from Tarrant.

Most of his past nine years was spent traveling across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Tarrant was “on nobody’s radar, anywhere,” said Morrison, spending only 45 days in the past three years in Australia.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, citing archives of the deleted Facebook account of the United Patriots Front (UPF), another Australian far-right group, Tarrant described one of that group’s leaders, Blair Cottrell, as “Emperor”. Reuters was unable to independently verify that detail.

Cottrell – a muscle-bound, blond-haired carpenter – founded the UPF alongside Sewell. Sewell later started Lads Society in 2017, with Cottrell’s promotional support. Cottrell, described by sources as the movement’s main figurehead in Australia, still heads UPF and appears in Lads Society photos and videos but holds no formal position in that group.

Cottrell told Reuters that, as best he could tell, Tarrant had donated only once to groups he was associated with – A$50 to the UPF.

“I don’t believe I influenced Tarrant much at all. Maybe three years ago, he was in support of our specific opposition to that mosque development in Bendigo.”

In 2017, Cottrell and two other UPF members were found guilty of inciting contempt of Muslims after they filmed a mock beheading outside council offices to protest a mosque development in the small Victorian city.

GOING MAINSTREAM

White extremists gained momentum in 2014 after an Islamist gunman took a group of hostages in a Sydney cafe, analysts and members of the movement say.

The following year, thousands of people attended rallies arranged by anti-Islam group Reclaim Australia, and some far-right politicians spoke at the events.

Suspicions about the presence of Lads Society members in the youth wing of the National Party first emerged after officials of the rural-based party noted an influx of new members from cities.

After ties to the Lads Society were revealed in local media, the National Party expelled 19 people, saying in a statement in November it “would not rest until every last one of these extremists have been identified and removed.”

In Australia’s latest census, about 90 percent nominated their ancestry as Australian or European, while 2.5 percent were recorded as Muslims.

Just under a quarter of Australians have a “negative attitude” to Muslims, according to a 2018 report from the Scanlon Foundation, a group that tracks social cohesion.

FAR-RIGHT SENATOR

In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, Australia’s Islamophobes flooded social media with memes and messages in support of Fraser Anning, the Australian senator who blamed the bloodshed on “an immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand”.

In an interview with Reuters, Anning said he was “completely opposed” to the attacks in Christchurch.

However, he echoed the “replacement theory” embraced by Tarrant and the global white supremacist movement. Muslims, he said, “are going to outbreed us very quickly”.

Anning has picked up 28,600 Facebook followers in the past four weeks, data provided by his office shows, and now has more than 122,000 followers.

Sewell and Cottrell in statements and interviews with Reuters and other media, also said they were appalled by the attacks on the mosques.

“Politically motivated violence is not in the interest of our organization or our community,” Sewell said in his since-deleted Facebook statement on March 20.

In his interview with Reuters, Sewell said further that Tarrant’s violence had caused governments to become “extremely reactionary”, passing legislation “without thinking it through”.

New Zealand moved swiftly to ban the kinds of semi-automatic weapons used in the attacks.

“We have a new level of totalitarian thought crime legislation across New Zealand and shortly here in Australia too,” Sewell added.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye, Tom Allard and Jonathan Barrett. Editing by John Chalmers and Lincoln Feast.)

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