Australian police raid properties linked to New Zealand mosque attacker

The attacks on two mosques in Christchurch have deeply shocked New Zealand, a small country with a reputation for tolerance © Getty Images

Australian police on Monday raided properties linked to the man charged with killing 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a bitter debate erupted about the role played by politicians and media in fomenting the rise of far-right extremism.

New South Wales state police said the primary aim of the operation was to assist New Zealand police with their investigation. “The community can be assured that there is no information to suggest a current or impending threat related to this search warrant,” police said.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, who moved from Australia to New Zealand less than two years ago, published a manifesto outlining his extreme rightwing and white supremacist views on the internet shortly before the shooting rampage at two mosques in Christchurch last Friday.

He was not on any police watch list in Australia or New Zealand and authorities are investigating how he became radicalized and what additional steps they can take to tackle the growing threat posed by far-right extremists.

Police said Tarrant’s family continues to help them with their inquiries.

In New Zealand on Monday, the government announced a wide-ranging probe into possible failings of government agencies — including police, intelligence, customs, and immigration — in the lead-up to the country’s worst ever terrorist attack.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, also said the cabinet had made preliminary decisions about gun law reform, with more details to be announced this week. “The clear lesson from history, around the world, is that to make our community safer the time to act is now.”

The attacks have deeply shocked New Zealand, a small country with a reputation for tolerance. Asked whether there was a racism problem in Christchurch, Ardern said: “The primary suspect here, the person who was arrested, was not a citizen of New Zealand.”

The Australian nationality of Tarrant has provoked a debate in his home country about the role played by politicians and media in stoking anti-immigrant and far-right views. It follows comments by Fraser Anning, an Australian senator, who suggested Muslim migration was partly to blame for an increase in violence and terrorist attacks.

The comments made in the wake of the Christchurch attack have provoked outrage in Australia, where a public petition calling for his removal from parliament has already collected more than 1m signatures.

Anning also became involved in controversy at the weekend when he punched a 17-year-old protester who cracked an egg on his head during a live media appearance.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, said Anning could face charges over racial hatred, as well as assault charges.

But commentators are also turning the spotlight on the use of incendiary language on immigration and Muslims by Australia’s ruling coalition.

“It’s hypocritical for some of these coalition characters to throw Anning to the wolves when many of them have engaged in ‘dog whistle’ politics on Muslims and immigration themselves,” said Duncan McDonnell, an expert on populism at Griffith University in Queensland.

Last year Dutton, himself, provoked a mixture of outrage and ridicule when he said people in Melbourne were too scared to go to restaurants because they were “followed home by African gangs”.

“This type of rhetoric legitimizes scapegoating of immigrant communities, it pushes the boundaries of what politicians say in public discourse and it risks radicalizing people on both sides- the far-right and Muslim communities,” Prof McDonnell said.

Australia’s media has also faced criticism for its willingness to provide a platform for far-right views. Australia’s most popular morning breakfast show, Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday, hosted Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-immigrant One Nation party, to discuss the controversy surrounding Senator Anning’s comments.

Tim Soutphommasane, a former race discrimination commissioner in Australia, said the country’s media organizations needed to wake up about the negative role they were playing in fomenting white supremacist views. “You can scrutinize far-right extremists without giving them yet more free air to spread their hate. Stop being complicit,” he said.

Sky New Zealand, an independently run news channel, temporarily pulled the Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian Sky News feed off its own network on Saturday because the broadcaster continued to play an edited version of the Facebook Live video, despite pleas from the New Zealand police to remove the footage.

Australia’s communications watchdog launched a formal investigation on Monday into whether the nation’s broadcasters breached rules by showing footage allegedly filmed by the gunman and live streamed on the internet.

“The Australian Communications and Media Authority will also request urgent meetings with the peak industry organizations — Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association — to discuss whether current rules are providing adequate protections for Australian audiences,” it said in a statement.

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