Terror probe: Focus on Chch gunman's early radicalisation

The Christchurch Muslim community still have unanswered questions more than three years after the...
The Christchurch Muslim community still have unanswered questions more than three years after the March 15, 2019 terror attacks. Photo: NZME
A full coronial inquest hearing into the March 15, 2019, mosque shootings will be held in Christchurch, a coroner has confirmed, and will include a focus for the first time on whether the Australian terrorist was radicalised online as far back as 2014 and whether he was acting as a lone wolf.

The scope of the Christchurch masjid attacks coronial inquiry has finally been revealed by Coroner Brigitte Windley in a 99-page decision released today.

It reveals the exact issues that the coroner will focus on and comes after a three-day hearing in February this year that heard from shooting survivors, grieving families, and other interested parties, who gave submissions on what issues were of most concern.

The inquest, which does not yet have a hearing date but will be held in Christchurch, will look at the causes of death for each of the 51 people killed during the shootings at the city's Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre mosques.

It will also examine the events of what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called "one of New Zealand's darkest days", from the start of the shooting, through to the "completion of the emergency response" and the terrorist's formal interview by police.

"Issues for investigation within this timeframe will include whether [the terrorist] had any help from others on that day, the emergency response efforts, and whether that response may have affected the survivability of the deceased," an information aid document to Coroner Windley's decision says.

A major concern for families has been how the terrorist was able to get a gun licence and while a Royal Commission of Inquiry delved deeply into it, the coroner will also take a look, and also see whether any "identified deficiencies in that process" have now been addressed by legislative amendments or process changes.

Another major question for many families has been the gunman's online and social media activity and to what extent it contributed to his extreme radicalisation.

Investigations by the royal commission, and New Zealand Police, only focused on the two years leading up to the attacks, and had limited success in reconstructing his online movements.

For the first time, Coroner Windley has decided to probe into the mass killer's online activity between 2014 and 2017, and whether he was radicalised much earlier than previously thought.

While the royal commission found that New Zealand's security agencies had deployed "an inappropriate concentration of resources" probing Islamic extremism pre-2019, the coroner has ruled that any missed opportunities by intelligence, counter-terrorism agencies, and other public sector agencies are out of scope and will not be examined citing the security-sensitive nature of key evidence.

"The atrocities of 15 March 2019 were unprecedented in New Zealand, as is the nature and scale of this inquiry," Coroner Windley said.

Al Noor Imam Gamal Fouda yesterday said he hopes the coronial process will finally address any unanswered concerns while the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) welcomed the coroner's decision on scope, satisfied that "almost all" of their issues have been included.

"We are pleased it seems to be a meticulous approach to identify the causes and circumstances of March 15," said Abdur Razzaq, chairman of the federation's royal commission submission and follow-up.

"It's the last legal step that we know of that we have to ask a number of the key questions that are still lingering.

"This will bring not just lessons learned but also closure for many victims, in some respect."

-By Kurt Bayer

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