Hundreds of arrests as London climate-change activists vow more protests

By Simon Dawson Helena Williams

LONDON (Reuters) – London police have made nearly 500 arrests as climate-change protesters, labelled “uncooperative crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continue two weeks of civil disobedience to push for more to be done to protect the environment.

The Extinction Rebellion group has been taking action in several countries including Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, France and New Zealand as it lobbies politicians to go further in cutting carbon emissions.

The protests are the latest stage in a global campaign for tougher and swifter steps against climate change coordinated by the group, which rose to prominence in April when it snarled traffic in central London for 11 days.

Police said 152 arrests had been made on Tuesday, taking the total number over the two days to 471 as some protesters lay down in the road outside parliament whilst others dressed in colourful costumes or brought tree saplings to give to lawmakers.

Police have introduced stricter conditions, saying anyone wanting to continue the protest can only do so in Trafalgar Square.

“This action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing serious disruption to the community,” police said. “Anyone who fails to comply with the condition is liable to arrest and prosecution.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the protesters when he attended an event late on Monday.

“I am afraid the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties,” he said, using a slang term for eco-protesters.

“They said there was some risk that I would be egged,” he added.

On Tuesday, some protesters hit back at him.

“It’s not helpful,” Diana Jones, from the southern English county of Sussex, told Reuters.

“We’re just ordinary people trying to express our deep disappointment with how slow the process of getting climate change action to occur is taking place, with the government not really listening, not really taking it forward on the scale it needs to be taken.”

The group wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 rather than the government’s 2050 target.

(Additional reporting by Henry Nicholls and Ben Makori; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)

Lone wolf attackers inspire each other, NATO chief says

FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference after a NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Nations must work together to stop lone-wolf attackers, who take inspiration from each other, NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, during a visit to a mosque in New Zealand where a gunman killed dozens of people in March.

His comments came as the United States reels from two mass shootings at the weekend that killed 29 people and injured dozens in Texas and Ohio, provoking calls for tighter gun controls and prompting worries over a resurgence of white nationalism and xenophobic politics.

Stoltenberg, making a two-day trip to New Zealand, visited Christchurch, where 51 Muslim worshippers were killed in the attacks on two mosques by a suspected white supremacist.

“These attacks are committed by lone wolves but they are at the same time connected because they use each other as inspiration and they refer to each other in the different manifestos,” Stoltenberg told state broadcaster TVNZ.

“It highlights that we have to fight terrorism in many different ways, with many different tools.”

The Texas shooter who killed 20 people at a Walmart store expressed support for the Christchurch gunman in his manifesto.

New Zealand authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, a suspected white supremacist, with murder following the attacks. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Society has to stand up for values of freedom, openness and tolerance, Stoltenberg said.

“We see that many of the terrorists are one of us,” he said. “They are home-grown, they are coming from our own societies. So this is very much also about addressing the root causes.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is due to meet Stoltenberg on Tuesday, said New Zealand would only want to be remembered for the way it rejected the act of violence and hatred.

“This is a global challenge,” she told a news conference later in the day.

“Of course we can do what we can to defeat acts of hatred, violence and racism in our own domestic areas. But, as an international community, we should also be united against acts of hatred, violence and terrorism.”

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Backstory: Finding some solace amid the bloodshed in Christchurch and Colombo

FILE PHOTO: A security officer stands guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

By Tom Lasseter

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The island nations of New Zealand and Sri Lanka are separated by some 6,600 miles (10,600 km) of ocean. But in just over a month’s time, each has seen mass killings that generated similar headlines.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, a man with his finger on the trigger of an AR-15 assault rifle stormed into mosques during Friday prayers on March 15. By the end of it, 51 people who had come to worship in two houses of God were dead.

In Colombo and other Sri Lankan cities, a group of nine suicide bombers struck in coordinated explosions on April 21. They strolled into St. Anthony’s Shrine in the capital, St. Sebastian’s Church in nearby Negombo and a church to the east of the country as the faithful sat in pews on Easter Sunday.

They also entered crowded restaurants in the Shangri-La and other hotels, as families tucked into breakfast buffets. The explosions that followed killed at least 253 people in total.

I flew into both cities in the aftermath of the massacres.

There was an obvious temptation to dwell on the symmetry of the tragedies.

The gunman in Christchurch had names written down the side of his rifle evoking past crusades by Christians against Muslims. Videos surfaced of the alleged ringleader of the Sri Lankan bombings, a radical Muslim preacher, calling for death to non-believers.

As I crisscrossed Sri Lanka in the back of a sport utility vehicle last week, though, I wondered about investing too much in the similarities, of seeing them as a part of an inevitable string of modern terror.

Instead, I thought about the different paths taken by two Muslim men we profiled – one a victim, one a suspected killer.

FILE PHOTO: Imam Ibrahim Abdelhalim of the Linwood Mosque poses for a picture at the door of his house in Christchurch, New Zealand March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Imam Ibrahim Abdelhalim of the Linwood Mosque poses for a picture at the door of his house in Christchurch, New Zealand March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

In Christchurch, I wrote about Ibrahim Abdelhalim. He moved to New Zealand in 1995. He’d enjoyed a relatively comfortable life in Cairo, but wanted a better future for his children.

Once there, the only job he could find was as a clerk at Work and Income, the government agency for employment services and financial assistance. No matter.

He also served as an imam, or spiritual leader, at a mosque.

When the gunman began shooting into the mosque where Abdelhalim was praying, the 67-year-old grandfather watched, helpless, as bullets pinned down his son on the floor before him. Abdelhalim’s wife was shot in the arm. It seemed possible he was about to witness the slaughter of his loved ones.

But after the violence, which his family survived, Abdelhalim threw himself into counseling the relatives of the dead. His heart was broken, but Abdelhalim decided to serve and to rebuild.

About a month later, I traveled with a colleague from the Singapore bureau, Shri Navaratnam, to the Sri Lankan town of Kattankudy. There we dug into the background of Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, the alleged leader of the Easter Sunday bombings.

He was expelled from his Islamic studies school for being too radical. Throughout his life, he was shunned by many of the Muslims around him.

Zahran went into hiding in 2017 after a fight in which his men confronted Sufi Muslims with swords. He disappeared again the next year after popping up in another town, where Buddha statues were vandalized.

FILE PHOTO: A police officer inspects the site of a gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalmunai, April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A police officer inspects the site of a gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalmunai, April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

The variation in that pair of narratives is, to me, worth remembering. During my years of covering war and its aftermath in Iraq and then Afghanistan, I saw communities warped by the shock of repeated violence and the sometimes brutal forces of identity and clan-based power. But even on the bloodiest of days, there were hints of solace.

After our story about Zahran was published last Friday, there was another development.

His father and two brothers were killed during a gun battle when security forces stormed their safe house. They had recorded a video calling for jihad, or holy war.

I suppose you could dwell on that and the fact that others close to him had gone down the same road.

But this is what caught my eye: the cops raided the house based on a tip that armed strangers had moved into the community. Passing that information along could have put the sources at risk. Who had spoken up? Muslims at a local mosque.

(Additional reporting by Shri Navaratnam and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Thousands gather for Anzac Day in Australia, New Zealand amid heightened security

General view at the Anzac Day dawn service at Elephant Rock, Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast, Australia, April 25, 2019. AAP Image/Dave Hunt/via REUTERS

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Tens of thousands gathered in Australia and New Zealand at Anzac Day memorials on Thursday amid heightened security following the shooting massacre at Christchurch mosques and deadly suicide bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

A Sri Lankan government minister says the bombings on Easter Sunday were retaliation for the Christchurch massacre on March 15, in which a lone gunman killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques. New Zealand says it has no evidence of a link.

A member of the 324 Squadron during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 25, 2019. AAP Image/Steven Saphore/via REUTERS

A member of the 324 Squadron during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 25, 2019. AAP Image/Steven Saphore/via REUTERS

Turkish authorities arrested a suspected member of the Islamic State group they believe was planning to attack an Anzac Day commemoration at Gallipoli attended by hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders, Turkish police said on Wednesday.

The arrest didn’t deter some 1,100 Australians and New Zealanders who attended a dawn service at Anzac Cove in Turkey.

“I feel quite safe, I feel that if there is any concerns, that it would have been called off and they wouldn’t have put us at risk,” said Chris King, a nurse from New Zealand.

Anzac Day commemorates the bloody battle on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey during World War One. On April 25, 1915, thousands of troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) were among a larger Allied force that landed on the narrow beaches of the Gallipoli peninsula, an ill-fated campaign that would claim more than 130,000 lives.

While the Gallipoli campaign against the Turks failed, the landing date of April 25 has become a major day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for their troops killed in all military conflicts.

Addressing thousands gathered for a dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that, in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, Anzac Day 2019 should be an even greater uniting force.

“Let us recommit to always remembering our shared humanity that there is more that unites us than divides us,” Ardern said.

“Our sense of independence is as strong as our sense of responsibility to each other and not just as nation states but as human beings. That is part of the Anzac legacy,” she said.

Heavily armed police surrounded the function area and snipers were positioned on rooftops during the ceremony.

A member of the 324 Squadron during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 25, 2019. AAP Image/Steven Saphore/via REUTERS

A member of the 324 Squadron during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 25, 2019. AAP Image/Steven Saphore/via REUTERS

Britain’s Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, paid tribute at the Auckland War Memorial alongside Ardern. He will travel to Christchurch later on Thursday to honor the 50 victims of the shooting.

Heightened security saw about 1,000 police deployed across New Zealand at hundreds of locations and security concerns meant Anzac Day events in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and elsewhere were scaled back.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed a dawn service in Townsville, Queensland, where he shared memories of his grandfather, who served in World War Two.

“Our heroes don’t just belong to the past, they live with us today,” Morrison said.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON and Will Ziebell in MELBOURNE. Additional reporting by Kemal Aslan and Bulent Usta; Editing by Michael Perry)

Red Cross seeks news on fate of three staff missing in Syria since 2013

Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

By Stephanie Nebehay and Charlotte Greenfield

GENEVA/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has appealed for information on the fate of three employees abducted in Syria more than five years ago and last known to have been held by Islamic State.

Red Cross worker Alaa Rajab, a Syrian national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

Red Cross worker Alaa Rajab, a Syrian national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

Breaking its silence on the case on Sunday, the independent aid agency identified the three as Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand, and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

“Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018,” it said.

U.S.-backed forces proclaimed the capture of Islamic State’s last territory in Syria last month, eliminating its rule over a caliphate it had proclaimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

ICRC officials said Akavi might have been swept up among some 70,000 women and children who fled to al-Hol camp after the fall of Islamic State, many of them jihadist sympathizers.

ICRC President Peter Maurer raised her case during a visit to the camp, run by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in March, they added.

“We call on anyone with information to please come forward. If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release,” the ICRC said in a statement providing a Syrian contact number: +963 953 555 745.

It said it had not been able to learn more details about the two drivers, and their fate was not known.

The three were traveling in a Red Cross convoy in October 2013, delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib, northwestern Syria, when it was stopped by armed men. Four other people abducted with them were released the next day.

Red Cross worker Nabil Bakdounes, a Syrian national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

Red Cross worker Nabil Bakdounes, a Syrian national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019. ICRC/Handout via REUTERS

The Swiss-run agency has a policy of never paying ransoms.

Akavi, now 62, joined the ICRC in 1988 and has worked in a number of hotspots.

She has been held longer than anyone in ICRC’s 156-year history, said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations worldwide.

New Zealand’s government said it was searching for Akavi. Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the government had deployed a non-combat team based in Iraq that included special operations personnel, “focused on locating …and identifying opportunities to recover her.”

After being moved by IS forces to Raqqa in 2017, Akavi was seen in Al-Bukamal in late 2018, close to the Syrian-Iraqi border, the last concrete information on her whereabouts, Stillhart said.

“What we actually know is that Louisa has been working as a nurse during her abduction which shows her dedication and commitment,” he said.

(Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan and John Stonestreet)

New Zealand votes to amend gun laws after Christchurch attack

Flowers and a New Zealand national flag are seen at a memorial as tributes to victims of the mosque attacks near Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers in New Zealand voted almost unanimously on Wednesday to change gun laws, less than a month after its worst peacetime mass shooting, in which 50 people were killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch.

Parliament passed the gun reform bill, the first substantial changes to New Zealand’s gun laws in decades, by 119 to 1. It must now receive royal assent from the governor general to become law.

“There have been very few occasions when I have seen parliament come together in this way, and I can’t imagine circumstances when it is more necessary,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in presenting the legislation.

Ardern banned the sale of all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles just six days after the March 15 shooting, and announced plans to tighten gun laws.

A lone gunman used semi-automatic guns in the Christchurch mosque attacks, killing 50 people as they attended Friday prayers.

Authorities have charged Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, with 50 counts of murder following the attacks.

The new curbs bar the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns.

Existing gun laws had provided for a standard A-category gun license covering semi-automatics limited to seven shots.

The bill grants an amnesty until Sept. 30 for people to surrender prohibited items. More than 300 weapons had already been handed in, police minister Stuart Nash told parliament.

The government has begun work on a second arms amendment bill it hopes to introduce in June, he said, adding that the measure would tackle issues regarding a gun registry, among others.

The government has faced criticism from some quarters for rushing through the bill. Wednesday’s dissenting vote came from David Seymour, leader of the small free-market ACT Party, who questioned why the measure was being rushed through.

Ardern said majority lawmakers believe such guns had no place in New Zealand.

“We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice,” she added. “We, in this house, are their voice and today we have used that voice wisely.”

Since last month’s shooting, New Zealand has tightened security and canceled several events in Auckland, its largest city, intended to commemorate ANZAC Day on April 25.

“There is no information about a specific threat to ANZAC events,” police official Karyn Malthus, said in a statement. “However it’s important that the public be safe, and feel safe, at events in the current environment.”

In 1996, neighboring Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buyback after the Port Arthur massacre that killed 35 people.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Turkey’s Erdogan shows shooting video again, hours after NZ meeting

Secretary General of OIC Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen speaks as New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters listens during an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

By Sarah Dadouch and Bulent Usta

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan replayed graphic footage of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting at an election rally on Friday – just hours after that country’s foreign minister met him and said he believed the controversial showings had stopped.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters arrived in Istanbul on Friday to talk to Erdogan about the footage and comments he has made on the shooting of 50 people at mosques in Christchurch a week ago, which have drawn condemnation from New Zealand and Australia.

But Peters emerged from a brief meeting with Erdogan and struck a conciliatory tone, saying that he had not raised at the meeting some of the most controversial comments the Turkish leader has made at rallies.

He also said that he had not asked Erdogan to stop showing the videos.

“I did not ask that question because I felt that I did not have to ask it, because they are not doing that anymore,” Peters told reporters after attending a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Two hours later, however, Erdogan paused his speech at an election rally in the central province of Konya so that the audience could watch the video footage of the shootings that the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook on March 15.

The video, which governments and social media sites have attempted to take down since the incident, was blurred but the gun shots were heard.

Erdogan is seeking to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections. He has shown different versions of the video about a dozen times throughout the week, including on Thursday.

“The New Zealand deputy Prime Minister came with a delegation and we had a chance to talk before coming here. We discussed and agreed upon what we should do,” Erdogan told supporters in Konya without elaborating.

‘COFFINS’ COMMENT GOES UNADDRESSED

The massacre in New Zealand was carried out by a lone gunman at two mosques. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the attack and is likely to face more charges.

In rallies across Turkey, Erdogan has since called on New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if that country did not. Referring to a “manifesto” posted online by the attacker, he said Turkey will return “in coffins” anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.

Peters told reporters he had not addressed these comments with Erdogan because he did not think it would serve a “long-term peaceful purpose,” adding that he had received assurances regarding the safety of New Zealanders visiting Turkey.

In an address to leaders of Muslim countries attending the OIC meeting, including Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Turkey, Peters defended New Zealand’s response to the shooting and said the perpetrator would spend his life in prison.

“This person will face the full force of New Zealand law, and will spend the rest of his life in isolation in a New Zealand prison,” Peters said, adding later that “misinterpretations” in the days following the shooting had been cleared up following his meeting with Erdogan and the OIC.

Before leaving Istanbul to attend the election rally, Erdogan told the OIC that the empathy and reaction displayed by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern since the incident “should be an example to world leaders.”

Earlier on Friday, Ardern said Peters had gone to Turkey to “set the record straight” amid the diplomatic row.

Earlier in the week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Erdogan’s comments “deeply offensive,” though on Thursday he said progress had been made and “we’ve already seen the moderation of the president’s views.”

No other heads of state or government attended the gathering of the OIC, which groups together Muslim countries to protect the interests of the Muslim world. It met on Friday to discuss Islamophobia and the New Zealand shooting.

Relations have generally been good between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia, with thousands traveling to Turkey each year to commemorate soldiers in the ANZAC army corps who died at Gallipoli just over a century ago.

“We are returning home to New Zealand with a grateful assurance that our people who come here to commemorate ANZAC will be as welcome as they always were,” Peters said.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Ezgi Erkoyun, Ali Kucukgocmen and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean)

New Zealand begins funerals for mosque shooting victims, PM visits school

Flowers and cards are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Tom Lasseter and Tom Westbrook

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – The bodies of victims from New Zealand’s mosques mass shooting were carried in open caskets on the shoulders of mourners into a large tent at Christchurch’s Memorial Park Cemetery on Wednesday – the first burials of the 50 victims.

The majority of victims from Friday’s attack in the South Island city were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

People attend the burial ceremony for the victims of the mosque attacks at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

People attend the burial ceremony for the victims of the mosque attacks at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The youngest was a boy of three, born in New Zealand to Somali refugee parents.

The first two victims buried, father and son Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, came from war-torn Syria.

“I cannot tell you how gutting it is…a family came here for safety and they should have been safe here,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, visiting the city for the second time since the massacre.

Wrapped in white cloth, the bodies were laid to face Mecca, and, after jenazah (funeral) prayers, were carried towards their freshly dug graves.

“Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” said Gulshad Ali, who had traveled from Auckland to attend the first funeral.

Several mounds of dirt piled high marked the site of multiple graves which will be used for New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.

Hundreds gathered to mourn, some men wearing a taqiyah (skullcap), others in shalwar kameez (long tunic and trousers), while women wore hijabs and scarfs.

Heavily armed police stood watch with flowers tucked in their revolver holsters and attached to their high powered rifles.

Six victims were buried on Wednesday, with more expected during the week.

Ardern said this coming Friday’s call to prayers for Muslims in New Zealand will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two-minute silence on Friday.

“There is a desire to show support for the Muslim community as they return to mosques on Friday,” she said.

The bullet-ridden Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died, was being cleaned and repaired for Friday prayers.

Near the mosque, members of rival gangs did a Maori haka, a powerful indigenous ceremonial performance, and a crowd of people sung New Zealand’s national anthem as the sun set.

The Australian National Imams Council has called on Imams to dedicate this Friday’s Khutbah (sermon) to the Christchurch mosque mass shooting.

“This is a human and an international tragedy, not only a Muslim and NZ tragedy. These acts of terror are there to divide us…and we reject this in all its forms and ways, but rather we will stay united and strong.”

INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATION

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

New Zealand’s police chief said global intelligence agencies, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and those from Australia, Canada and Britain, were building up a profile of the alleged shooter.

“I can assure you this is an absolute international investigation,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a media briefing in the capital Wellington.

Questions were being asked about New Zealand’s relaxed gun laws, which Ardern has promised to tighten, and on whether New Zealand authorities were focused enough on the risk from far-right extremists.

As of Tuesday night 21 victims had been identified, with the remainder expected to be completed on Wednesday before their bodies can be released for burial, police said.

Families of the victims have been frustrated by the delay as under Islam bodies are usually buried within 24 hours.

Bush said police had to prove the cause of death to the satisfaction of the coroner and the judge handling the case.

“You cannot convict for murder without that cause of death. So this is a very comprehensive process that must be completed to the highest standard,” he said.

Twenty nine people wounded in the attacks remained in hospital, eight still in intensive care.

Many have had to undergo multiple surgeries due to complicated gunshot wounds. The gunman used semi-automatic AR-15 rifles, with large magazines, and a shotgun.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with one of the first responders who was at the scene of the Christchurch mosque shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with one of the first responders who was at the scene of the Christchurch mosque shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

TRAGEDY FOR A SCHOOL

The attack was broadcast live on Facebook and quickly distributed to other platforms, prompting Ardern and others to rebuke the technology companies.

A group of state-run New Zealand investment funds with a combined NZ$90 billion ($61.5 billion) in assets said they were putting their investment heft behind calls for Facebook, Google and Twitter to take action following the livestreaming and sharing on social media of the attack.

Ardern earlier visited Cashmere High School in Christchurch which lost two students in the attack – teenagers Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa – plus Hamza’s father Khaled, and a former student Tariq Omar.

She talked to about 200 children gathered at the school auditorium about racism and changes in gun laws.

“Never mention the perpetrator’s name … never remember him for what he did,” she said, asking the children to focus on the victims.

($1 = 1.4624 New Zealand dollars)

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Edgar Sue in CHRISTCHURCH, Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry, Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)

‘Our darkest of days’: PM Ardern voices New Zealand’s grief

A poster hangs at a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Tom Westbrook and Charlotte Greenfield

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday praised the bravery of mosque worshippers as a lone gunman massacred their friends and family, saying the nation stood with its grieving Muslim community in this “darkest of days”.

As preparations for the first burials were underway for the 50 people killed last Friday in the Christchurch mosques mass shooting, Ardern singled out three worshippers, including one of the first killed in the attack.

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, 71, opened the door to the Al Noor mosque. Ardern said he “uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words”.

“Of course, he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much; that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care,” she told parliament.

Ardern, who has been widely praised for her compassionate and decisive handling of the tragedy, said she never anticipated having to voice the grief of a nation.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, was charged with murder on Saturday.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

“The families of the fallen will have justice,” said Ardern, adding she would never mention the alleged gunman’s name.

“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

She ended her speech with the Arabic greeting “Al salam Alaikum”, meaning “Peace be upon you”.

The victims, killed at two mosques during Friday prayers, were largely Muslim migrants, refugees and residents from countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Kuwait, Somalia and others.

No official list of victims has been released and police said they were “acutely aware of frustrations” at the length of time taken to formally identify bodies.

“While identification may seem straightforward the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this,” police said in a statement. Twelve victims had been identified to the satisfaction of the coroner and six of those had been returned to their families, they said.

Bodies of the victims were being washed and prepared for burial in a Muslim ritual process on Tuesday, with teams of volunteers flown in from overseas to assist with the heavy workload.

A wheelchair-using worshipper who survived the slaughter at the Al Noor mosque, but whose wife was killed, has offered an olive branch to the gunman, saying he would like to meet him and tell him “I still love you”.

“I don’t agree with what you did; you took a wrong decision, a wrong direction, but I want to believe in you. That you have great potential in your heart,” said Farhid Ahmed, 59.

Fifty people were wounded and 30 of them are in the Christchurch hospital, authorities said. Nine of them are in critical condition. One four-year-old child was transferred to a hospital in Auckland in a critical condition.

GUN LAW DEBATE RAGES

The gunman used a semi-automatic AR-15 during the mosque shootings, police said. A New Zealand gun shop owner said the store had sold Tarrant four weapons and ammunition online between December 2017 and March 2018, but not the high-powered weapon used in the massacre.

Ardern has said she supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons and that cabinet has made in-principle decisions to change gun laws which she will announce next Monday.

“Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws,” she said.

While some New Zealanders have voluntarily surrendered guns, others have been buying more to beat the ban.

A gun club in the northern town of Kaitaia burned down early on Tuesday and police were treating the blaze as suspicious.

Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition National Party, said he wanted to get details of the changes to see if there could be bipartisan support in parliament. The Nationals draw support from rural areas, where gun ownership is high.

“We know that change is required. I’m willing to look at anything that is going to enhance our safety – that’s our position,” Bridges told TVNZ.

Ardern has said that Tarrant emailed a “manifesto” to more than 30 recipients including her office, nine minutes before the attack but it gave no location or specific details. In the document, which was also posted online, Tarrant described himself as “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old”.

Ardern was critical of social media platforms for allowing the distribution of hatred and division, including live broadcasts of the attack.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman,” she said.

“There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This, of course, doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism.”

A consortium of global technology firms has shared on its collective database the digital fingerprints of more than 800 versions of the video of the mass shooting.

Anyone caught sharing the massacre video in New Zealand faces a fine of up to NZ$10,000 ($6,855) or up to 14 years in jail.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has said it removed 1.5 million videos within 24 hours of the attack.

Ardern said there would be an inquiry into what government agencies “knew, or could or should have known” about the alleged gunman and whether the attack could have been prevented.

More than 250 New Zealand police are working on the inquiry, with staff from the U.S. FBI and Australia’s Federal Police joining them.

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Police will be stationed at mosques around the country when they are open for prayers, and nearby when closed, said Ardern.

“Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow. That means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.”

(Additional reporting by Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast)

Facebook shares drop as executives quit, Christchurch live-stream shooting stirs outrage

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Shares of Facebook Inc fell as much as 5 percent on Friday to their lowest in nearly three months after the surprise departure of Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, at a time when the company is again being scrutinized over its handling of privacy, extremism and political content.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

Cox, a Wall Street favorite who has worked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for 13 years, led the social network’s business development team and helped define the business model of its messaging service WhatsApp.

“We believe Cox played a critical role in establishing FB’s mission, values, and culture, and he was extremely well-regarded inside and outside the company, including by Wall Street,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note.

Also departing is WhatsApp Vice President Chris Daniels, adding to a string of recent high-profile exits from Facebook’s product and communications teams.

Facebook, Twitter and Google were also facing another round of public discussions over extremist content on their platforms on Friday, after video footage of mass shootings in New Zealand was live streamed and widely shared online.

“The live-streaming of New Zealand’s shooting will certainly bring on more questions of regulation and scrutiny over Facebook. It helped provide a platform for today’s horrific attack and will undoubtedly be called into question for facilitating the spread of this,” said Clement Thibault, analyst at global financial markets platform Investing.com.

The gunman, who was part of attacks that killed 49 people in New Zealand, broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one of the mosques, leading to calls for more content moderation by the social network.

Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid said social media firms must take action to stop extremism on their channels after Friday’s shootings.

“You really need to do more @YouTube @Google @facebook @Twitter to stop violent extremism being promoted on your platforms,” Javid wrote on Twitter.

The social media companies have said they would take down content involving the mass shootings, which were posted online as the attack unfolded.

Facebook has been investing heavily to weed out fake content from its platform and has hired thousands of employees for moderating content and suspended hundreds of suspicious accounts in different countries.

The company’s shares were down 2.5 percent at $165.83 in midday trade.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Bernard Orr)