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New Zealand shooting: Jacinda Ardern vows never to say name of Christchurch mosque attacker

‘Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them’

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 19 March 2019 08:40 GMT
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern on change in gun laws following New Zealand mosque shooting

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to say the name of the Christchurch gunman who killed 50 people in shootings at two mosques, on the basis he committed the attack at least in part to “lift his profile”.

Ms Ardern was speaking on Tuesday after it emerged that the 28-year-old Australian man charged with murder over the attack, Brenton Tarrant, had dismissed his court-appointed lawyer and planned to represent himself.

The prime minister said she would do everything in her power to deny the accused mosque gunman a platform for elevating his white supremacist views.

“I agree that it is absolutely something that we need to acknowledge, and do what we can to prevent the notoriety that this individual seeks,” Ms Ardern told reporters.

“He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them. And that’s something that we can absolutely deny him.”

She demurred about whether she wanted the trial to occur behind closed doors, saying that was not her decision to make.

“One thing I can assure you – you won’t hear me speak his name,” she said.

Later, in a passionate speech to parliament, she urged the public to follow her lead and to avoid giving the gunman the fame he so obviously craves.

“I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she said. “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”

On Monday evening, more than 1,000 students from rival Christchurch schools and different religions gathered in a park across from the Al Noor mosque, joining voices in a passionate display of unity.

The students sat on the grass in the fading daylight, lifting flickering candles to the sky as they sang a traditional Maori song. Hundreds then stood to perform an emotional, defiant haka, the famed ceremonial dance of the indigenous Maori people.

For many, joining the vigil for the victims of the mass shooting was a much-needed opportunity to soothe their minds after a wrenching few days.

“I feel like it’s just really important to show everyone that one act of violence doesn’t define a whole city,” said Sarah Liddell, 17. “This is one of the best ways to show everyone coming together. Some schools have little funny rivalries, but in times like this we all just come together and that’s all forgotten.”

One of the ways in which the shooter made clear his desire for attention was the live footage he streamed of his attack on social media.

Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million versions of the video within 24 hours of the attack, while a consortium of tech companies including Facebook said it was sharing a database of the digital fingerprints of more than 800 versions of the video, in a bid to make them easier to take down.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism was created in 2017 under pressure from governments in Europe and the US after a spate of deadly attacks. It provides a platform for companies to share counter-terrorism techniques and work closer with security officials.

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Facebook said the original video on its service, a live broadcast of a gunman firing in and around a mosque, was seen fewer than 200 times.

An archived copy drew about 3,800 additional views on Facebook before the company removed it, Facebook said in a blog post on Monday, but a user on online forum 8chan had already copied the video and posted a link on a file-sharing service.

Shorter clips of the video were shown by TV networks across the world, despite pleas from the New Zealand government. New Zealand has now formally classified the video as an objectionable publication, making it an offence to distribute or possess it.

Meanwhile in parliament on Tuesday, Ms Ardern said there were justified questions and anger about how the attack could have happened in a place that prides itself on being open, peaceful and diverse.

New Zealand’s international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed it had not received any relevant information or intelligence ahead of the shootings. “There are many questions that need to be answered and the assurance that I give you is that they will be,” she said. “We will examine what we did know, could have known or should have known. We cannot allow this to happen again.”

Meanwhile, Christchurch was beginning to return to a semblance of normalcy on Tuesday. Streets near the hospital that had been closed for four days reopened to traffic as relatives and friends of the victims continued to stream in from around the world.

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