Special Briefing: When Terror Strikes at Tranquility

Police stand outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved.

Source Mark Baker/AP

Why you should care

Because nowhere seems safe.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? In what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” at least 49 people were gunned down during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, an eastern city of about 375,000. Dozens more were injured in the country’s worst-ever terror attack. Three suspects are in custody — they had not been on terror watch lists previously — and explosive devices found in their cars have been defused. One man in his late 20s has been charged with murder. 

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. One person is in custody and police are searching for another gunmen following several shootings at mosques in Christchurch. Police have not confirmed the number of casualties or fatalities. All schools and businesses are in lock down as police continue to search for other gunmen.

Source Hagen Hopkins/Getty

Why does it matter? The shock of Friday’s attacks was amplified by the fact that it occurred in a country of 4.8 million otherwise mostly devoid of social, economic or political turmoil. Long considered a bastion of stability, New Zealand has come face-to-face with the kind of extremist violence that seems to have become distressingly common elsewhere. It poses a challenge not only for the fresh-faced Ardern — who’s been touted globally as a model of progressive leadership — but also quite possibly for the country more broadly.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Hateful — and viral. While police haven’t identified any suspects, an Australian-born former fitness instructor named Brenton Tarrant used Facebook to livestream what appeared to be part of an attack at the Al Noor mosque in a 17-minute video. He also reportedly posted a rambling 74-page manifesto that railed against immigrants as “invaders,” among other apparent nods to White supremacy. In the aftermath of Friday’s carnage, some journalists accused major social media platforms of failing to stop the video from spreading, while others in the media have warned their colleagues against misinterpreting a manifesto they believe is “thick with irony” and possibly intentionally misleading.

Shattered peace. New Zealand has long prided itself as a peaceful outpost in a world increasingly marred by extremist violence, a claim backed by its own statistics as well as international rankings. According to the most recent available data from local authorities, the country witnessed a total of 35 murders in 2017 — that’s 14 less than the number of people murdered within a few hours in Friday’s attacks. And for the past two years, New Zealand has ranked second among 167 nations, behind only Iceland, in the Global Peace Index, which is measured by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace. The most recent mass shooting occurred in 1997; by comparison, the U.S. has experienced 90 such events since that year.

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People wait outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Many people were killed in a mass shooting at a mosque, a witness said.

Source Mark Baker/AP

Time to bolt? In recent years, New Zealand has also emerged as the preferred location for some of the wealthiest individuals in the world to purchase “bolt homes” — places to which they’d escape in the event of an apocalypse. In fact, New Zealand’s Parliament even passed a law last year banning most foreigners from purchasing homes there amid a nationwide housing shortage. Yet Friday’s attacks may tarnish the country’s reputation as the best escape from a turbulent world. And perhaps more damaging would be a dent in tourism, its largest export industry, which brings in around 17 percent of New Zealand’s annual earnings.

All eyes on Ardern. As the country languishes in the fallout of Friday’s attacks, many will likely look to its widely praised prime minister to help heal a wounded nation. Considered immigrant-friendly — Ardern recently bumped the country’s annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting next year — New Zealand under her leadership has earned the admiration of progressive-minded peers around the world. While certainly one of the most significant challenges of her career, this tragedy may also be an opportunity to lead by example during a time of true crisis.

WHAT TO READ

The Massacre in New Zealand Was Made to Go Viral, by Charlie Warzel in The New York Times

“The killer wanted the world’s attention, and by committing an act of mass terror, he was able to get it.”

Extremists Saw Nation as ‘a Target-Rich Environment, by Bernard Lagan in The Times

“He explained why he chose Christchurch: New Zealand was just too easy.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Christchurch Shooting ‘One of New Zealand’s Darkest Days,’ Says PM Jacinda Ardern

“Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

Watch on ABC News on YouTube:

New Zealand Mosque Shooting Eyewitness Says He Escaped as Shots Began

“I never, ever expected, or never thought, that something [like this] would happen … in front of my own eyes.”

 Watch on CBC News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Marked safe. Although they were caught up in Friday’s attack on the Al Noor mosque, the national cricket team of Bangladesh “just escaped” as shooting began, and no team members were reported to have been injured.

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