Brenton Tarrant: The Australian suspect behind the New Zealand mosques terror attacks

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Shocked family outside a mosque in Christchurch district in New Zealand after the terrorist attack. PHOTO/AAP

By AGENCIES

The shooter, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who is suspected to have carried out at least one of the New Zealand mosque attacks is an Australian citizen.

The 28-year-old is from Grafton, 500 kilometres north of Sydney. He once worked at a local gym before moving to New Zealand.

Tarrant made a brief appearance at the Christchurch district court on Saturday morning, and made no application for bail on his murder charge. He was remanded in custody.

The main suspect in the mosque shootings that killed 49 people in New Zealand on Friday has appeared in court on a single murder charge.

He appeared in the dock in a white prison shirt and handcuffs. Further charges are expected to be made against him.

PM Jacinda Ardern said Mr Tarrant had five guns and a firearms licence, adding: “Our gun laws will change.”

Two other suspects are in custody. None of those detained had a criminal record.

Mr Tarrant was remanded in custody without plea and is due appear in court again on 5 April.

Live coverage on social media on the spot

At the same time, social media companies that include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram among others couldn’t stop a video of mass murder in New Zealand from going viral.

“I will carry out an attack against the invaders, and will even live stream the attack via Facebook.”

That’s what the 28-year-old suspect posted on the fringe message board 8Chan moments before he allegedly massacred at least 49 people in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday.

The massacre once again shone a bright light on tech’s role in the spread of hateful ideologies.

IMAGE/SCREENSHOT/CNN

The suspected shooter was extremely active on social media. Entrenched in white supremacist meme culture, he used Twitter as a conduit to promote anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Like a lot of right-wing extremists, he used ironic shitposting and memes to sneak past online moderators on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit.

The stream was live for a full 17 minutes before Facebook removed it. Even then, it wasn’t Facebook’s much-vaunted artificial intelligence systems that flagged the content, nor human moderators. It took a phone call from the New Zealand police to alert the world’s biggest social network to the murders being broadcast live on their platform.

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube failed to contain the video. It was copied thousands of times, and despite tech companies’ efforts to keep it from spreading, it was still easily searchable 12 hours after the attack.

Facebook has struggled to moderate its live streams for years. Documents obtained by Motherboard show just how badly the company has fumbled in trying to contain harmful live footage on its platform.

At the end of the day, Facebook is operating the way it was designed. “We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think society should want us to,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2017 defending the company’s response to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

An Australian in custody’

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the Australian was in custody over the attacks.

IMAGE/BBC

“Australian authorities are involved and they will be proceeding with their investigation,” he said.

Earlier, a Facebook Live video was posted by the account “Brenton Tarrant 9” with the credit “Brenton Tarrant was live” which showed the gunman attacking Christchurch’s Al Noor mosque.

74-page manifesto

In a 74-page manifesto setting out the reasons for the attack, reportedly authored by the shooter, he further described himself as “just an ordinary white man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family”.

In the manifesto, seen by SBS News, Brenton Tarrant said he “only arrived in New Zealand to live temporarily whilst I planned and trained” but then decided to carry out an attack there.

It is unclear how long Tarrant has lived in New Zealand for, nor his connection with the other suspects. He did mention that he made some money from Bitconnect, which is a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. He then used the money to travel across Europe.

“This is an individual who at the time of the attacks had based himself in Dunedin,” explained New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday.

“But I would describe them as – him as someone who sporadically visited New Zealand but spent periods of time here on the occasions that he visited.”

Under a heading “why did you carry out the attack?” he says it was to avenge “thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders.”

Former intelligence and defence policy analyst Dr Paul G Buchanan said the shooting was “a classic case of right-wing extremism, right-wing terrorism.”

He told SBS News that the manifesto reminded him of Norweigan terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.

Four arrested

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed on Friday afternoon that police had arrested four people, three men and one woman, but said he wouldn’t “assume that the threat is over”.

He added that he was not aware of other people being involved, but said: “we cannot assume there are not others at large”.

Mr Bush also confirmed that reports of improvised explosive devices being strapped to vehicles had been deemed safe by defence force personnel.

According to the New Zealand Herald, between nine and 27 people have been killed.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking from New Plymouth, said it was “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”, describing the incidents as “an unprecedented act of violence”.

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