New Zealand will ban semi-automatic weapons after the worst mass killing in the nation’s history left 49 people dead and another 48 injured.
As the nation reeled following the terror attack on two mosques in the South Island city of Christchurch, New Zealand attorney general David Parker said the weapons would be outlawed.
Speaking on Saturday in Christchurch, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the suspect charged over the killings intended to “continue with his attack” when he was intercepted by police.
She said the man was arrested by two “rural community cops” 36 minutes after the first emergency call was made on Friday and was still an active shooter.
“There were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack,” she told reporters in Christchurch on Saturday.
Ardern said children were caught up in the attack and one of the injured was a two-year-old boy.
An Australian national, Brendon Tarrant, 28, appeared in court on Saturday charged with one count of murder in relation to the massacre and has been remanded in custody until 5 April. He is expected to face more charges.
Ardern said the investigation was ongoing but authorities believed there was only “one primary perpetrator”.
One other man was arrested on Friday for carrying a firearm in his car in order to get to his family home while the city was in lockdown, and was released by police without charge.
Police also arrested a couple at a roadblock. New Zealand’s police commissioner, Mike Bush, said they were “working through” whether one or both of them had any involvement in this incident.
Thirty nine people remain in hospital, 11 of whom are in critical condition in an intensive care unit. A four-year-old child in a critical condition was flown to the children’s Starship hospital in Auckland.
Christchurch hospital’s chief of surgery, Dr Greg Robertson, said many of the victims would require multiple surgeries.
Ardern met the families of victims on Saturday. She said authorities were working to ensure that bodies could be identified and repatriated quickly to allow for proper Muslim burials.
Ardern also said it was believed the weapons used in the attack had been modified and that loopholes that allow such modifications would be closed in proposed gun reforms to be discussed by cabinet on Monday.
Full details of the weapons used in the attack have not been released publicly but Ardern confirmed that two semi-automatic rifles were involved. These can be legally purchased under an entry-level “category A” firearms licence provided they do not have a high capacity magazine. Tarrant had held such a licence since December 2017.
Gun control experts told the Guardian such weapons can be easily converted into a military-style semi-automatic rifle using a high-capacity magazine, the sale of which is not regulated in New Zealand.
Authorities in both Australia and New Zealand have been asked to review why the suspect was not listed on any counter-terrorism watchlist, despite reportedly planning the attack for several years.
He identified himself as a member of online far-right extremist networks and the massacre was live-streamed on social media.
Police in Tarrant’s home state of New South Wales said they had spoken to his family, who called police after seeing the attacks reported on the news. Police are investigating whether Tarrant had any terrorist links in his hometown of Grafton or its surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, Australia’s immigration minister, David Coleman, revoked the visa of the far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos for making comments on social media about the Christchurch attack that Coleman said were “appalling and foment hatred and division”.
Coleman personally approved the visa for Yiannopoulos’ speaking tour last week, against advice from the Department of Home Affairs.
Senior Australian politicians, including the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and opposition leader Bill Shorten, also condemned the Queensland senator Fraser Anning for saying, hours after the attack: “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?”
Morrison said he “absolutely and completely denounced” all of Anning’s comments as “appalling and ugly” and that the government and opposition would make a joint motion censuring Anning when parliament returned in April. /The Guardian