Looking for the wrong bad guys: why NZ didn’t see Tarrant coming
Obsessed by jihadis, gangs and nationalistic Maori groups, authorities were 'looking under all the wrong rocks'
During a trip to Europe in April and May 2017, Brenton Tarrant settled on the violent plan that he described as his “truth”: he would commit a murderous attack that he believed would promote the cause of white nationalism.
In the almost two years that followed, Tarrant prepared for his horrific massacre, amassing numerous shotguns and semi-automatic weapons and ammunition, as well as combat clothing, an optical sight and a barrel-mounted strobe torch to confuse his victims. After obtaining a gun licence in November 2017 and buying his first weapons, he practised shooting regularly at a South Otago rifle club, about 48km south of his home in Dunedin.
All the while, Tarrant, who had moved from Australia to New Zealand, apparently engaged in regular online discussion with fellow white nationalists, telling them before his attack: “Well lads it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real effort post.”
Yet authorities in New Zealand and Australia failed to notice any sign that he might pose a threat. Following the attack, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said Tarrant was “not on the radar of either the New Zealand intelligence agencies or the Australian agencies”.
Authorities in both countries are now building a picture of the 28-year-old and his background and contacts with extremists. New Zealand security agencies will brief Ardern on Monday. But the attacks have raised questions about how this self-described introvert, who began considering the attack almost two years ago, went unnoticed and whether authorities have been too focused on Islamic radicalism at the expense of far-right extremism.
Professor Alexander Gillespie, an international security expert at New Zealand’s Waikato University, said authorities had been “looking under all the wrong rocks”.
“We were very concerned about jihadi terrorism and about gangs and about nationalistic Maori groups,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “We were watching everyone else, but the attack came from the far right. We were a little complacent. We didn’t see it coming.”
Tarrant grew up in the small town of Grafton, about 640km north of Sydney, where he worked as a personal trainer from 2009 for about two years. For the past four years Tarrant has mainly been travelling the world, living off money he made from investing in a cryptocurrency and a small inheritance he received after his father died in 2010. Around 2013, he moved to New Zealand, from where he travelled across Southeast Asia and China.
In a 74-page manifesto that he posted online shortly before his attacks, Tarrant said his views changed “dramatically” in April and May 2017. He claims to have decided to turn to violence after a terrorist attack in Stockholm in April 2017. His extremism and ethno-nationalist delusions then intensified in the following weeks, as he travelled across France and encountered “a stream of invaders” entering a shopping centre in a small town.
Since the attack, authorities around the world have been investigating his various travels, particularly to identify any evidence of collusion. Turkish authorities are investigating trips there in March 2016 and from September to October 2016, and Bulgarian authorities are looking into his travel there from November 9 to 15 2018.
Tarrant’s precise movements from about 2013, when he is believed to have left Australia, until 2017, when he was known to have been living in Dunedin, remain unclear.
Following his decision to commit to a “violent, revolutionary solution”, he began preparing for an attack. He considered launching an attack outside New Zealand, or in Dunedin, but settled on Christchurch, which allowed for the possibility of attacking two mosques.
“No group ordered my attack, I make the decision myself,” he said.
– © Telegraph Media Group