March 25, 2019 / 4:31 AM / in a month

New Zealand PM announces royal commission inquiry into Christchurch attack

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday a royal commission, a powerful form of public inquiry, into the events leading up to a March 15 attack on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people.

“It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to the bottom of how this act of terrorism occurred and what, if any, opportunities we had to stop it,” Ardern told reporters at Parliament House in the capital, Wellington.

A suspected white supremacist has been charged with one count of murder over the Christchurch shootings and will next appear in court on April 5. Ardern has said the man had not been on any watch lists in New Zealand or Australia.

She said a major focus of the inquiry would be whether security agencies focused their attention on the right issues and whether there were any clues that were missed.

It would also include the role of social media and the suspect’s ability to obtain a weapon, Ardern said.

The precise terms of reference for the royal commission have yet to be announced but Ardern’s decision to call such an inquiry was welcomed by members of New Zealand’s Muslim community.

“The announcement of an inquiry is a great call and the right thing to do. I hope that it will be an inclusive inquiry and that an opportunity will be provided to the Muslim community to feed into the terms of reference,” said Guled Mire, a Muslim community advocate.

“It’s important we get this right so we can learn from past mistakes,” he said.

Royal commissions are independent inquiries and are usually reserved for matters of the greatest public importance. Ardern said such an inquiry was an appropriate response to the attack but declined to give a timeframe while her government finalised the terms of reference.

Massey University security and defence analyst Rhys Ball, who formerly worked for New Zealand’s intelligence service, said the inquiry should include agencies such as customs, police and immigration.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Files

“I know that right-wing extremism was always considered a potential problem and was monitored from time to time and investigated,” Ball said.

“There may be some failings, may have been things missed, but it’s only fair that you apply that scrutiny to all agencies involved,” he said.

Ball said the United States and Australia had held similar wide-ranging inquiries in the aftermath of major attacks.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon; Editing by Paul Tait

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