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NZ opens inquest into Christchurch mosque attack

WELLINGTON (AFP) – A coronial inquiry into New Zealand’s 2019 mosque killings opened Tuesday, with relatives of the 51 people who died in the massacre hoping to discover if any lives could have been saved.

White supremacist Brenton Tarrant shot and killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019, in New Zealand’s deadliest modern-day mass shooting.

Deputy chief coroner Brigitte Windley opened the inquiry in Christchurch on Tuesday, saying it would “look at what we may learn from this atrocity and speak for those who have lost their lives in an effort to protect the living.”

Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley speaks at the opening of a coronial inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch massacre, in Christchurch on October 24, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

Maha Galal, spokesperson for the “15 March Whanau Trust” representing some of the victims’ relatives, said there was an “urgent need for answers”.

“Our paramount concern is to comprehend the truth,” Galal said in a statement before the inquiry began.

The families of the victims “are united in their pursuit of understanding, seeking clarity on whether their loved ones could have survived,” Galal added.

“This pursuit of truth is crucial for healing and closure.”

The opening session of the inquest included a moving video with a tribute to each of the 51 victims from their grieving families.

Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda observes the proceedings at the opening of a coronial inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch massacre, in Christchurch on October 24, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

The inquest will examine all events from the start of the attack to Tarrant’s formal police interview, including the response times of police and emergency services.

“One of the central inquiries revolves around why our loved ones were left at the mosque without any immediate action for some time and the police did not allow us or anyone else to get them out,” Galal said.

“We place our trust in the coroner’s process and our legal representation to address these pressing questions and provide the necessary insights,” she added.

Other questions for the coroner include: Did anyone help Tarrant? Could a different medical response have saved lives? And did an emergency exit door at one of the mosques fail to open on the day of the attack?

‘Base hatred’ 

The killings carried out by Tarrant, an Australian former gym instructor from the rural New South Wales town of Grafton, horrified New Zealand and sparked global revulsion.

After admitting to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder, and one of terrorism, he was sentenced in August 2020 to life imprisonment without parole.

In his sentencing, Judge Cameron Mander said Tarrant’s “warped” ideology and “base hatred” led him to murder defenceless men, women and children.

Tarrant had live-streamed the killings on social media and published a manifesto online before carrying out the attacks.

Then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern quickly moved to tighten gun laws in the aftermath and put pressure on social media giants to curb online extremism.

Galal says the victims’ families hope the inquest will provide some closure and highlight ways such an attack can be prevented in future.

“We believe that there is much we can learn from what happened on March 15, 2019, so that we are all prepared, as a community, if such a tragedy happens again which we pray will not happen.”