Terrorist attack in New Zealand: A dark day that could change everything

OPINION: The pall cast over New Zealand by the Christchurch mosque tragedies was reflected in the sombre mood at  Parliament.

This is the day everyone knew might come – yet even as we watched the rest of the world fall victim to terror attacks and hate crimes, we hoped we might still be immune, protected by our distance from the rest of the world.

We were not – and we can only grieve for what we have now lost as a nation. 

Our darkest day - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

Our darkest day – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

New Zealand’s terror threat level has been lifted to high for the first time in its history, in the wake of what is now formally being described as a terrorist attack. 

Smaller planes whose passengers don’t pass through security checks have been grounded and border security has been tightened.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison called it a right wing terrorist attack, and described himself  as “numbed”, that such an attack could happen in a place like Christchurch.

Armed police on the streets of Christchurch following the mosque shootings.

ADAM BRADLEY

Armed police on the streets of Christchurch following the mosque shootings.

So are we all.

READ MORE: 
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* Islamic associations president reacts to Christchurch Mosque shootings
* Timeline of the Christchurch mosque shootings
* Man claims responsibility for attack, records assault on video
* Bangladesh cricket team escape Christchurch mosque shooting
* Christchurch mosque shooting: What you need to know
* Manawatū Muslim leader asks for calm following shooting
* ‘He had a big gun and lots of bullets’ – Witness describes Christchurch mosque shooting

The sickening stream of material released by the alleged shooter on Facebook and Twitter, some of it also emailed to senior Government ministers and newsrooms within minutes of the attack, was a chilling manifesto of terror, violence and hate.

A Christchurch mosque shooting survivor is comforted as he comes through the cordon.

STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

A Christchurch mosque shooting survivor is comforted as he comes through the cordon.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it one of New Zealand’s darkest days and no-one will disagree.  

Senior ministers and staff seen at Parliament in the immediate aftermath of the shooting looked shaken.

Officials streaming into Police National Headquarters for a meeting of the high level Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (OCDESC)  were grim and silent.

SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge heads into the ODESC crisis meeting in Wellington.

COLLETTE DEVLIN/STUFF

SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge heads into the ODESC crisis meeting in Wellington.

The group of senior chief executives from the Security Intelligence Service, Foreign Affairs, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, civil defence and others is only ever convened in times of crisis and when national security is under threat.

In the immediate aftermath the focus will be on supporting the victims and the grieving families of the 40 people who were killed, and the 20 who were injured.

But there willbe questions over the coming days over whether we had sufficient warning systems in place.

The alleged shooter had posted disturbing material on Facebook in advance of the attack. Yet the prime minister confirmed he and his associates were not on any watch lists and appeared not to have attracted attention from the police.

There will also be questions about whether this is a turning point in how we view ourselves as a nation.

Even the attack on Green Party co-leader James Shaw in a Wellington Park just 24 hours earlier is being seen in a new light in the wake of the tragedy in Christchurch.

No-one is saying the attack is linked but  the incident had already sparked questions about whether we are too complacent about the security of our public officials.

Senior Cabinet ministers are often seen walking to work unprotected – one former finance minister was like clockwork on his morning coffee run and former finance minister Bill English regularly went for runs around Wellington’s Thorndon hills.

Only the prime minister receives police protection; other MPs and ministers take it for granted that they can move around the country freely.

They won’t be alone in questioning whether everything has changed how.

That is a question the rest of us will be asking as well.