Christchurch mosque shooting: New Zealand mobilises in anti-terror fight
Police have been deployed across Christchurch today as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says public safety remained her top priority in the wake of the devastating terror attack that claimed its 50th victim yesterday.
On the first day back at work after Australian alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant’s shooting spree, Ms Ardern said 120 extra police would be largely on the beat in the city for public safety and 200 staff mobilised for grief and trauma support, some specialists assigned to schools particularly where the victims were studying.
She said the city was distressed and all had to be done to assure them.
Ms Ardern’s assurance during a live broadcast yesterday came as police made another arrest on the periphery of the central investigation.
In a sign of the nation’s state of high alert, New Zealand police closed Dunedin airport late Sunday after a suspicious device was reported on the airfield.
“Dunedin Airport is currently closed” a statement said. “Police are at the scene and specialist teams have been deployed to determine the nature of the package.”
An Air New Zealand staff member on the scene, who was not authorised to speak to the press, told AFP the terminal building had not been evacuated.
Only a handful of flights were due to arrive to the airport in the southeastern city, as the scare came in the late evening.
According to tracker Flightaware, Air New Zealand flight 691 from Wellington had been circling about the city for almost anhour before returning to its destination.
FIRST BODIES RETURNED
The first body of one of the victims was expected to have been handed over to their family overnight for burial as authorities begin digging mass graves.
An Australian team of six disaster victim identification workers are now on the ground as mass vigils were held across the country including in Wellington.
A Turkish government delegation, believed to be led by a foreign minister and a deputy president, is expected to fly into Christchurch today.
Ms Ardern said Cabinet would also convene today to discuss the first moves to toughen gun laws, discuss “unverified” reports there had been a rush now to buy weapons and what further assets intelligence services needed.
Parliament would sit just to make a special Christchurch tribute then adjourn.
MANIFESTO MAILED MOMENTS BEFORE ATTACK
Ms Ardern also revealed she was one of 30 recipients of a disturbing ideological manifesto allegedly written by Tarrant that warned of his actions, the mass mailout to her office and others was made nine minutes before the massacre. Authorities were alerted two minutes later.
“The assurance I want to give is had it provided details that could have been acted on immediately they would have been but unfortunately there were no such details in that email,” she said.
She added: “I reiterate this was received by 30 recipients nine minutes before guns were fired … by the time those details could have been passed on police were already receiving those (emergency) calls and responding and someone taken into custody within 36 minutes.”
FAMILES EAGER TO BURY DEAD
Earlier in the day, police said forensic police were working frantically to identify the mass shooting victims as tensions rose in the local Muslim community over delays in releasing bodies for burial.
Just how difficult their task at two of the shooting sites was, police yesterday revealed the body of a 50th victim had only just been found at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque, bringing the total slaughtered there to 42.
A further 50 people were injured in total, 12 remain in critical condition.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said all the bodies had been removed from that mosque and at the Linwood Masjid Mosque where another seven people were killed.
He said he was expecting one body to be fully identified for release overnight.
“We have to be absolutely clear on cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen,” he said.
“But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs, so we are doing that as quickly and sensitively as possible.”
Mr Bush also revealed police had brought in “a very large contingent” of ethnic liaison officers to work directly with the families of each victim as well as religious leaders.
Police released a preliminary list of the victims to families, which has helped give closure to some relatives but one woman collapsed and was in hospital after hearing the news of her loved ones including husband killed.
Authorities yesterday sent in backhoes to dig new graves in a Muslim burial area that was newly fenced off and blocked from view with white netting.
Dozens of people from Auckland’s Muslim community and elsewhere bussed down to Christchurch to also help with the burial process including the washing of bodies.
Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours.
STRUGGLE TO IDENTIFY DEAD
Families of the victims yesterday gave police photographs of their loved ones to help with identification but a local Pakistani-born liaison staff working directly with them, said photographs may not be enough.
“This was a genocide and some of the families who came here from overseas know war, they know terror, they are familiar with these things but they came here to be safe and did not expect it here. They just want to wash and bury their dead.”
Originally published as NZ begins terror fightback