New Zealand has filed terrorism charges for the first time in the country’s history — against the man accused of killing 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch earlier this year.
The accused shooter, a 28-year-old Australian armed with semi-automatic weapons, opened fire on Muslims who’d gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers on March 15. He also broadcast the deadly attack on Facebook Live.
He’s been charged under New Zealand’s terrorism suppression law, which was enacted in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. In addition to the terrorism charges, he’s also facing 51 charges of murder and 40 charges for attempted murder.
Before the shooting, the suspected gunman uploaded a lengthy manifesto online that showed he was intimately familiar with the ideas and symbols associated with the modern far-right. Counterterrorism experts concluded that the shooting and the gunman’s manifesto were evidence that far-right extremism posed a global, and growing, threat.
“The terrorism act charge is about recognizing harm to the community,” barrister and legal commentator Graeme Edgeler told Reuters.
The charge comes as legal experts in the United States debate whether current counterterrorism law — which is structured around the threat posed by international groups like al Qaeda and ISIS — is sufficient to address the threat of far-right extremism.
Recently, a Coast Guard lieutenant who had stockpiled guns and planned to start a “race war,” according to his emails obtained by prosecutors, was nearly released from jail because the government couldn’t charge him with domestic terrorism.
The suspected mosque shooter is due to appear in court again on June 14.
Cover image: FILE - In this March 15, 2019, file photo, police stand outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealand police on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 released a detailed timeline of their response to the March 15 shootings that left 50 dead at two Christchurch mosques, confirming they arrested the suspected shooter 18 minutes after receiving the first emergency call. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)