The Prime Minister will be questioning her security and intelligence agencies as to how people with extreme ideologies managed to carry out an unprecedented terror attack on New Zealand soil.
On Friday afternoon, gunmen open fired on two mosques in Christchurch. By 7pm, 40 people were confirmed dead – 10 killed at the Linwood Ave mosque, and 30 at a mosque near Hagley Park. A further 20 were in a serious condition at Christchurch Hospital.
Two explosive devices were found on the suspects’ cars and were disarmed by police and New Zealand Defence Force personnel.
Four people were arrested in Christchurch, including three people directly associated with the attacks.
The primary attacker had identified himself as an Australian, which has been confirmed. He arrived in New Zealand recently.
In the days leading up to the shooting, he had posted about his extremist, nationalist views on social media, and had shared pictures of weapons – including firearms. He also shared a lengthy manifesto detailing his motivations, and then posted a video of the shooting in the mosque.
Despite the man’s online activity, he and his associates were not on any security or intelligence watchlists, and he was not known to police, Ardern said.
In time, all questions regarding how the attack happened, and how these people had gained access to automatic weapons would be asked, she said.
Ardern met with security and intelligence bosses upon her arrival in Wellington, and would meet with them again later on Friday evening.
In response to questions of whether authorities had placed too much focus on monitoring Muslim extremists rather than white supremacists, Ardern said security and intelligence agencies “were blind to that”, and focused on extremism no matter where it came from.
“We should be vigilant against the idea of extreme ideology, and extreme violent acts.”
The immediate priority was keeping New Zealanders safe, and getting all necessary police resources to Christchurch. In the coming days, there would be further investigation into how the attack was able to happen.
“We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate… “We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.”
For the first time, the country’s security threat level had been raised to high (from low). This would allow authorities to respond appropriately, including heightened border security.
Ardern said she condemned the attack, and maintained New Zealand was a peaceful nation.
“We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate.
“We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism,” she said.
“We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.
“Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who needs it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”
New Zealand was a place people should feel safe, she said, adding that this was not a reflection of who New Zealanders were.
Ardern said her thoughts were with those who had been impacted by the attack.
“Christchurch was their home. For many, this may not have been the place they were born, in fact for many, New Zealand was their choice.
“The place they actively came to, and committed to. The place they were raising their families. Where they were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return. It was a place that many came to for its safety. A place where they were free to practise their culture and their religion.”
Ardern was in touch with Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, the Imam in Christchurch, as well as her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, and security and intelligence chiefs and police.
The Prime Minister planned to travel to Christchurch on Saturday.