This section of the report contains material that may be confronting, particularly to those affected by the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
Christchurch has a small but growing number of people of Muslim faith among its total population of around 388,500 people. Many people worship at Masjid an-Nur on Deans Avenue and at the Linwood Islamic Centre on Linwood Avenue. Both masjidain have members from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Some are New Zealand-born, others immigrated here, including some who came as refugees. They have a range of working backgrounds and home lives. A shared belief in Islam is what draws them together.
On Friday 15 March 2019, a little before solar noon, members of both masjidain were beginning to gather for Jumu’ah, Friday prayers. There were about 190 worshippers at Masjid an-Nur and around 100 worshippers at the Linwood Islamic Centre.
A Global Climate Strike for Future march for high school students was underway in the city centre. That apart, 15 March 2019 was an ordinary mild autumn Friday in Christchurch.
Earlier in the day, the individual had left his home in Dunedin and driven to Christchurch, a distance of some 360 kilometres. He reached the outskirts of the city at approximately 1.00 pm.
The individual had six firearms in his car – two semi-automatic rifles, two other rifles and two shotguns – along with loaded large capacity magazines (some of which had been coupled together to facilitate changing magazines rapidly) and rounds of ammunition. He had already written words and phrases on the firearms and magazines reflecting his extreme right‑wing, ethno-nationalist and Islamophobic ideology. There were more than 200 references to events in history, individuals or ideas, using short-hand terms that were intended to be recognisable and meaningful to those whose thinking aligned with that of the individual.
The individual had in his car four crude incendiary devices, two ballistic armour (bullet-proof) vests, military style camouflage clothing, a military style tactical vest, a GoPro camera, an audio speaker and a ballistic style tactical helmet. He also had a scabbard with a bayonet-style knife (with anti-Muslim writing on it).
The individual stopped in a carpark near Masjid an-Nur. He arranged the firearms so that four firearms were in the front of his car and the other two were in the rear of the vehicle. He draped one of the ballistic vests over the back of the driver’s seat (to protect himself against any shots that might be fired at him from behind). He then put on the other ballistic vest, the military style camouflage clothing and the tactical vest. The tactical vest held at least seven magazines. The scabbard and the speaker were attached to his tactical vest.
At 1.26 pm, the individual updated his Facebook status with links to seven different file sharing websites that contained copies of a manifesto he had written explaining his motivation for the terrorist attack he was about to carry out.
At 1.28 pm, he posted an anonymous message to an online discussion board called 8chan, which was known to attract people with white supremacist and anti-immigrant views:
This message directed readers to his Facebook page. It was intended to, and did, have the effect of enlisting the help of an online community to spread widely and quickly news of the terrorist attack, the manifesto and the video he would later livestream from his GoPro camera.
At 1.31 pm and 1.32 pm, he sent final messages to his mother Sharon Tarrant and sister Lauren Tarrant through Facebook messenger.
At 1.32 pm, the individual also sent an email to 34 recipients, including the Office of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, media organisations and the Parliamentary Service. The email contained this message:
Subject: On the attack in New Zealand today
I was the partisan that committed the assault. I have attached my writings to explain my actions and beliefs as well as provided links to webpages to download the documents below.
[link to file sharing websites that contained copies of his manifesto]
At 1.33 pm, he linked his GoPro camera to his mobile phone and, with the camera mounted on the front of his helmet, he began to livestream footage to his Facebook page. This meant that he was filming everything he did and said and broadcasting it live to an international audience.
At 1.34 pm, the individual drove from the carpark in the direction of Masjid an-Nur on Deans Avenue. At 1.36 pm, he pulled over on the side of Deans Avenue and took off his helmet. He turned the GoPro directly towards his face and addressed his online audience. He then put the helmet back on his head, where it remained for the duration of the terrorist attack. The livestreamed video shows a person on the footpath walking past the vehicle without stopping.
Shortly after, at 1.37 pm, the individual turned on a strobe light, which was attached to one of the semi-automatic rifles and produced regular flashes of bright light. The purpose was to confuse and disorient the worshippers he was about to attack. The individual then continued to drive along Deans Avenue and stopped in a driveway just to the north of the masjid.
At 1.39 pm, the individual got out of his car, carrying the rifle with the strobe light attached. He walked to the rear of his vehicle and removed a semi-automatic shotgun.
At 1.40 pm, the individual walked towards Masjid an-Nur carrying the two firearms. Worshippers were inside or walking towards the masjid for Friday prayers. The individual opened fire with the shotgun, shooting four worshippers who were just entering the masjid. He then walked inside the masjid and continued shooting worshippers. When his shotgun ran out of ammunition, he abandoned it and used the semi-automatic rifle.
The first of a number of 111 emergency calls from the scene was received by New Zealand Police at 1.41 pm.
Worshippers tried to hide or flee from the building. Many of those in the men’s prayer room could not open the emergency door and therefore could not get away. However, some worshippers were able to smash a window and escape through it.
Inside the masjid a worshipper ran at the individual and was shot as he did so. He then crashed into the individual, knocking him to the ground and dislodging a magazine from his tactical vest. This worshipper died from his injuries.
At 1.42 pm, the individual left Masjid an-Nur to return to his car. On his way, he fired at people outside the masjid and on the Deans Avenue footpath to the north and south of the masjid. When he reached his car, he dropped the semi-automatic rifle he had been using in the driveway and retrieved the other semi-automatic rifle. He lifted up one of the incendiary devices in the rear of his vehicle but ultimately left it in the car. He then ran to a driveway to the south of the masjid, firing at those he could see. Entering the masjid again, he fired more shots at people inside before returning to his car. On the way, he fired at people outside the masjid and in the carpark, including women who had come out of the women’s prayer room and were trying to flee through a pedestrian gateway.
Some worshippers in the masjid car park were helped over the high boundary wall by other worshippers or neighbours. Some worshippers, having escaped the masjid grounds, were able to take refuge in nearby houses. While traffic initially continued to flow past the masjid, some people passing by stopped and provided cover and medical assistance to worshippers.
Throughout the terrorist attack, the individual played music through the speaker on his vest at high volume. This was from a playlist of pre-selected music, including an anti-Muslim song “Remove Kebab”, which is associated with the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. He also continued to talk to the livestream audience during the attack with intermittent commentary as the GoPro and audio feed kept transmitting.
At 1.45 pm, the individual got back into his car and drove towards the Linwood Islamic Centre, which is approximately six kilometres He selected its address in his satellite navigation system. As he was leaving, he stopped several times to use the second shotgun to fire shots from his car at people near Masjid an-Nur, leaving holes in his front windscreen and smashing the passenger window of his car. Sirens from the first police vehicles to arrive at Masjid an-Nur can be heard in the livestream video, as the individual was driving towards Linwood.
In the course of his high-speed drive to Linwood (reaching speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour in a 50 kilometres per hour zone), the individual talked and laughed, still addressing those following the livestream of his terrorist attack. He drove erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road and up onto the grass median strip. He also unsuccessfully attempted, on two occasions, to shoot the driver of a car next to him. Before the individual arrived at the Linwood Islamic Centre, the livestream footage of the terrorist attack stopped. This was at 1.51 pm. The GoPro was, however, still active and continued to record until he was apprehended by New Zealand Police.
The individual arrived at the Linwood Islamic Centre at 1.52 pm. The worshippers had not been alerted to the terrorist attack at Masjid an-Nur. The individual parked across the end of the driveway, on Linwood Avenue. He ran towards the masjid with a third rifle, firing shots at people outside the building and then through a window into the masjid. After about a minute he abandoned this now empty rifle and returned to his car. He was followed down the driveway by a worshipper who yelled at him.
The individual removed the second of his semi-automatic rifles from his vehicle and fired at the worshipper, who had to dive between cars to avoid being hit. The individual went to the masjid entrance and fired at people with this rifle until he ran out of ammunition. He then dropped the rifle and ran towards his car. As he was doing this, the worshipper who had earlier followed the individual in the driveway threw a hand-held EFTPOS machine (an electronic payment device) at him. The worshipper then picked up one of the abandoned rifles and pursued the individual to his car, eventually throwing the rifle at the individual’s vehicle as he was driving away. This shattered a rear passenger window.
Throughout the terrorist attack, worshippers tried to take cover, with some hiding behind cars in the driveway and carpark.
At 1.55 pm, the individual drove off at high speed (up to 120 kilometres per hour). The first report of shots having been fired in Linwood was made at 1.56 pm. New Zealand Police officers arrived at the Linwood Islamic Centre at 1.59 pm.
Figure 1: Route taken by the individual during the terrorist attack
The individual’s intention had been to drive to the Ashburton Masjid to continue his terrorist attack. We know this based on what is in his manifesto about his intentions, him putting the address of the Ashburton Masjid in his satellite navigation system, what he told interviewing New Zealand Police detectives later that day and what he told us when we interviewed him. His direction of travel when he was apprehended by New Zealand Police was consistent with this purpose and he still had with him the last of his rifles.
Given reporting by witnesses of his car’s number plate to New Zealand Police, the highly visible gunshot holes in the car windscreen, smashed windows, the distance to Ashburton of 92 kilometres and the single practicable route to that town from Christchurch, it was never likely that he would have reached the Ashburton Masjid. Indeed, just minutes after leaving the Linwood Islamic Centre and only four kilometres away, he was arrested after two New Zealand Police officers rammed his vehicle with their car.
Fifty-one people died as a result of gunshot wounds suffered at the two masjidain on that day. The oldest victim was 77 years old and the youngest three years old. Another 40 people suffered gunshot injuries, many of which have been catastrophically life changing. Some whānau suffered multiple tragedies with more than one person killed or injured.
In response to the terrorist attack New Zealand Police directed that Christchurch lock down – people were told by news, social media and their workplaces to stay inside for their safety until further notice. It was not clear whether more attackers were in the area. Children sheltered in their schools. Breaking news reports came through on the radio and television as word spread of the terrorist attack.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, faced major physical, emotional and other challenges. Many of these are ongoing. Communities throughout New Zealand feel less safe and secure.
Despite efforts by social media companies and Public sector agencies, both the GoPro footage taken by the individual of the terrorist attack and his manifesto spread across the internet. The video that was initially livestreamed by the individual on Facebook went on to be shared by many others, multiplying its global reach. It found its way onto multiple platforms including Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. Some people reported unintentionally seeing the video when it autoplayed on their news or video feeds. Those who watched the video included survivors of the terrorist attack as they lay in hospital, whānau of the shuhada, witnesses of the attack and ordinary people in Christchurch and around the world – adults and children alike. Almost as fast as social media platforms could remove the offensive and graphic footage, it was replaced – sometimes spliced into new video clips, making it impossible to detect quickly. Days after the terrorist attack, the manifesto and the video were classified as objectionable by New Zealand’s Chief Censor, making it illegal to possess and distribute them. Both are, however, still available on websites based outside of New Zealand.
New Zealanders reacted to the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019 with shock, disbelief, horror, sympathy and with an outpouring of public grief and solidarity with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. News media covered the event and the aftermath comprehensively with extended interviews with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. The media also interviewed ordinary citizens who wanted Muslim communities to know that New Zealanders rejected the terrorist attack and the apparent motivation. The remarkable acts of bravery by shuhada and survivors were highlighted, including the actions of the worshipper who ran at the individual during the terrorist attack and the worshipper who pursued the individual with an abandoned rifle. So too were the selfless acts of witnesses who provided assistance to worshippers during and immediately following the terrorist attack, such as those who helped worshippers over the fence of Masjid an-Nur, sheltered those who were fleeing the terrorist attack and gave first aid to those who were wounded.
News media coverage also focused public attention on the treatment of New Zealand’s ethnic and religious communities, and Muslim communities in particular. Questions were asked about the administration of the firearms licensing system and the performance of New Zealand Police, the intelligence and security agencies and the wider national security system.
This Royal Commission was established by the Government to provide an independent and authoritative report addressing these concerns.
On 26 March 2020, the individual pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of engaging in a terrorist act. He was convicted of those offences.
On 27 August 2020, the individual was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for each of the 51 charges of murder.1 He was further sentenced to concurrent terms of 12 years’ imprisonment for each of the 40 charges of attempted murder. He was also sentenced to life imprisonment for engaging in a terrorist act. It is the first sentence of life imprisonment without parole to be imposed in New Zealand’s history.
On 27 August 2020, the individual was designated as a terrorist entity under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.2 This means the individual’s assets are frozen. The designation also makes it a criminal offence for anyone else to participate in, or finance, the activities of the individual.
1. R v Tarrant  NZHC 2192.
2. New Zealand Gazette 2020-go3941