This morning the Christchurch shooter changed tack and entered a guilty plea to 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one under the Terrorism Suppression Act. We can now call him what he is: a terrorist. But there are questions that still need to be addressed, writes Anjum Rahman.
I’ve just received the news that the accused in the Christchurch mosque attacks has pleaded guilty to all charges, and my heart is so full of emotions right now. Mostly relief for all the victims of this attack, who will now not be put through a court trial. Relief that the attacker will not be able to spread his hateful message through the use of the courts in this country.
Relief that, to some extent, this will provide partial closure for the victims. Full closure will not happen until sentencing, but there is no doubt that this is a huge step.
Relief also for the people who would have had to be on the jury. For them to have to go through all the evidence would have also been traumatic.
Relief that the court case will now no longer be a rallying point for white supremacists the world over. Those who have been emboldened by his atrocious act of violence, and who have stepped up there harassment of Muslims and other people of colour. Those who have been inspired by this act to conduct other mass killings around the world.
Along with the relief, some anger that it took this long. That a guilty plea could have been forthcoming much earlier and reduced a huge area of stress for those affected. Still, at least it’s done now.
For me, the guilty plea on the charge of terrorism is one of the biggest aspects. This firmly places the act as one that was designed to cause terror and to remove any feelings of safety for the target community. It sends a huge signal that white supremacy and the alt-right are engaged in terrorist activity, and this acknowledgement has been very slow in coming, particularly in other places across the world.
There are some questions, though, that still need to be addressed. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Attacks has been tasked to answer some of these, but that report may or may not be released to the public. And the public deserves answers to the issues raised in the Terms of Reference. A trial, had it been fully public, would have given us the full details.
It is not good enough that our intelligence agencies hide behind the veil of national security in this. We need to know how the attacker was able to come and go from this country with impunity, why his social media activities didn’t raise any intelligence flags, why he was able to get a license and who were his referees.
Most importantly, we need to know who his associates were, both online and offline. An attack of this sophistication, though carried out by an individual, is highly unlikely to have been carried out in complete isolation. He would have been talking to people about some of the logistics, even if he didn’t specify exactly what he was going to do.
Also, we need to know about his path to radicalisation. I personally have seen some information about that, but now that there is no court trial, this information must be put into the public sphere. Who was he talking to, what was he influenced by. This guilty plea removes any excuse for secrecy, and we as a country must ask for full transparency.
I understand that our public service is tied up with the Covid-19 pandemic, another threat to our public safety. We appreciate their work and willingness to go above and beyond to keep the New Zealand public safe.
Once this current crisis is over, public safety requires that the full circumstances leading up to this attack are fully disclosed. We need to know about any failings in the system, what has been done to rectify these and what is yet to be done.
I wish that this was over, but it is not over and will not be over for a long time. We can not afford to forget or put it behind us. Because those who hate and commit violence are still out there and causing harm, and we need to know they will be stopped before they can do so.