‘Shooter’ on mysterious overseas tour of right-wing hotspots
FRESH details have emerged about the accused Christchurch mosque gunman's movements in the lead-up to the massacre in which 50 people were killed in New Zealand.
Authorities in Austria say suspect Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian from Grafton in New South Wales, visited the country but declined to provide further details.
Police and intelligence services on both sides of the Tasman have been investigating Tarrant's movements as he made his way in and out of several European countries in recent years.
Interior Ministry spokesman Christoph Poelzl said on Thursday an investigation by the BVT domestic intelligence agency was continuing but "a first result from this is that it can now be confirmed the person in question spent time in Austria".
Earlier this week Hungarian authorities said Tarrant visited Hungary as a tourist last November by train from Romania.
But mystery continues to surround what Tarrant did and where he went while he was there.
Hungary's Counter-Terrorism Centre said in a statement Tarrant entered the country on November 26 at the border railway crossing in Lokoshaza, about 250km southeast of Budapest.
The statement said Tarrant was travelling alone when he entered Hungary, did not appear on any terrorist databases, had not been flagged by authorities elsewhere and would have been allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days without a visa.
Mr Poelzl declined to confirm whether authorities knew if Tarrant then travelled to neighbouring Austria, as photos on his now-deleted Facebook page suggest. Some of Tarrant's anti-Muslim views are echoed by Austria's far-right Identitarian Movement. The group is close to parts of the nationalist Freedom Party, which controls the country's Interior Ministry.
Tarrant said in an online manifesto New Zealand was not his original intended target, but he changed his mind after moving to Dunedin, in the South Island, to train and prepare. Once there, he allegedly selected it for the attack because of its image as one of the safest countries in the world.
Tarrant's grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, 81, told Nine he spent his high school years on a computer and may have been fundamentally changed by a trip to Europe when attacks by Islamist extremists were on the rise. But she also said that when he returned to Grafton a year ago for his sister's birthday, she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.
Fifty people were killed in the attack last Friday, and dozens more were injured when Tarrant allegedly filmed himself shooting people at two city mosques.
Minutes after shooting dead 42 people at Christchurch's Al Noor mosque, the gunman turned his attention to nearby Linwood mosque where more horror was inflicted.
As Tarrant approached the second mosque dressed in a big jacket and gloves and carrying a large weapon, he allegedly started shooting at a window before entering.
Mohammed Akheel Uddin, who had just been checking vehicle parking outside, saw Tarrant as he approached the back of the building while 100 Muslims prayed inside.
"I said, 'Getting down. Something is happening outside. People get on the floor'," he told stuff.co.nz.
"I called the people to get inside the ladies' section. It's a safe place, you can lock it from inside. Then I saw him. He was six to eight feet in front of me.
"By the time he was in the right place we hide ourselves. It was panic. It was a very terrible situation … if he was coming straight away to the main door, everybody would be maybe no more here."
The survivor of New Zealand's worst terror attack said he called police to warn them the shooter may attack the Al Noor mosque not knowing Tarrant had been there first.
A survivor of the New Zealand mosque massacre whose wife was one of 50 victims killed in the shooting says while he doesn't support the accused gunman's actions, he "love(s) that person because he is a human".
Farid Ahmed, a senior member of Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, was paralysed after a drunk driver struck him six years ago. When Tarrant on Friday allegedly opened fire on worshippers inside the venue, Mr Ahmed's wife Husna rushed to her wheelchair-bound husband's aid. As she made her way towards him, she was shot from behind and killed.
"I was asked, 'How do you feel about the person who killed your wife?' and I said, 'I love that person because he is a human, a brother of mine," Mr Ahmed told the New Zealand Herald.
"I do not support what he did - he got it wrong.
"But maybe he was hurt, maybe something happened to him in his life … but the bottom line is, he is a brother of mine.
"I have forgiven him, and I am sure if my wife was alive she would have done the same thing.
"I hold no grudge."
Tarrant has so far been charged with a single count of murder and has been remanded to a maximum-security prison where he is being watched 24/7 ahead of his return to court early next month.