Christchurch terror attack: Intelligence agencies turned blind eye to far-right extremism in NZ - experts

Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand's intelligence agencies will be asking themselves how they failed to stop Friday's atrocity in Christchurch.

A gunman, appearing to act alone, killed 50 people and injured just as many at two mosques in Christchurch. The death toll could have been much higher if it weren't for two police officers in town for a training session on how to deal with armed offenders, who managed to ram his car off the road and catch him alive.

Zain Ali, a teaching fellow in Islam at the University of Auckland, said amid the "little bit of numbness" and "sense of this being surreal", the local Muslim community is feeling anger.

"We're not a third-world nation," he told The AM Show on Monday. "We have the SIS and the security agencies - where were they?"

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The Prime Minister acknowledged the authorities may have been looking for terrorism in the wrong places over the past couple of decades.

"People will feel yes grief, but anger too - and I absolutely acknowledge that," she told The AM Show. "There are questions to be answered. In fact, our agencies themselves... are looking as well at some of the questions this has raised."

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: The AM Show

The suspect, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, was not on any security watchlists here or in his native Australia.

"They've been looking in the wrong places - there's no way you can deny that now," said Al Gillespie, a professor of international law from the University of Waikato.

"We spend a lot of time focusing on jihadi terror, we've been concerned about the gangs. The police were even deployed to the Ureweras in search of terrorists. The authorities were looking in all the wrong places.

"There were warnings that the right-wing were out there, but they weren't taken seriously."

He said while the far-right don't carry out as many attacks as other extremist groups, when they do "they're very lethal and the death toll is very high".

"I think there's going to be a lot of doors being knocked on right now, to see whether these people have been talking to each other."

National leader Simon Bridges said when his party was in Government in 2016, they put in an extra $179 million into our intelligence agencies over the next four years.

"We've got to say, where was the focus?"

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

Bridges said he couldn't remember if far-right extremists were ever discussed at security briefings during National's three terms in Government.

"I certainly don't recall it. I think again, you've got to say a real focus on Islamic extremism, a real focus on Asia and cyber security, about gangs. But you've got to say extremism is extremism, and did we get the focus wrong as a country?"

Ardern said she's aware of the "trend around some of that violent, extreme, racist rhetoric globally", and so are our agencies - even more so now.

"That doesn't stop us needing to ask the question as to whether or not there were indications that we could have seen, should have seen, that would have led them to be."

Dr Ali said the Muslim community in Christchurch are keen to get back to the mosques as soon as possible.

"People are taking time to digest. They appreciate there is a threat at the moment. They're praying at home. There are even a few churches that have opened their doors for Muslims to pray there if they want... In time, people will go back to the mosque."

But for now, they grieve.

"With Christchurch you have a smaller Muslim community, and that makes it more family-oriented. The events on Friday have had the effect of ripping the heart out of the community there."