Adam Awad’s family, including daughter Munera, have suffered abuse at the hands of nationalist extremists.
New Zealand’s minister responsible for intelligence services has admitted that a plan to tackle far-right extremism had not been completed at the time of the Christchurch terrorist attack that killed 50 people and wounded another 50.
- Muslim communities want a state watchlist of right-wing groups in New Zealand
- Former MP says criticism of spy agencies’ negligence has “substance”
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In an exclusive interview with the ABC, Justice Minister Andrew Little said New Zealand agencies started work about nine months ago on evaluating hard-right threats after they were identified as a national security issue.
“Obviously with the benefit of hindsight, we wish that we could have got on to this earlier, and that might have made a difference, but I think what has become increasingly apparent since Friday is that the perpetrator of the massacre on Friday operated on his own,” he said.
Mr Little said an inquiry into the attack would evaluate whether the agencies had been too slow to act.
“The reason we’re having an inquiry is to ask not only could we have seen this, but should we have seen this? Should we have done something earlier? Were we blind to what was happening?”
Members of New Zealand’s Muslim community hope the inquiry provides answers. They feel like the threat of white nationalist groups has not been properly dealt with in recent years.
Ibrahim Omer migrated to New Zealand from Eritrea. He now works in the trade union movement and helps refugees resettle in New Zealand.
He said Muslims had been over-monitored by security services, while far-right groups had been largely ignored.
“I think there is no question that those comments made online by this man [the accused, Brenton Tarrant] — if those kinds of comments were made by a Muslim, I think it would be taken seriously,” Mr Omer said.
“I think he would’ve been in trouble.”
Mr Omer said Muslim communities had told police they had been targeted by skinheads and white supremacists in and around Wellington both online and in the street.
“A lot of people have been telling me that they have been chased by hateful and racist skinhead gangs and women have been told to go back to where they came from,” he said.
“Sometimes the hijab has been pulled off from their heads and they’ve got all sorts of abuse.
“We knew there was a problem [before the attack], but we didn’t think it would come this soon and this big.”
Adam Awad has lived in New Zealand since 2001. Originally from Somalia, he has four children and was once named the Red Cross Refugee of the Year for his community work in Wellington.
He said it was time right-wing groups were closely monitored in New Zealand.
“We’ve been saying these right-wing groups need to be on a watchlist,” he said.
“They need to really, seriously follow what they are doing across the country.
“The hatred is really quite intense. It’s well known in the Wellington region and across the country.
“We have been targeted. Told ‘go back to where you came from’. My daughters, my family have been through a lot. This is what the whole Muslim community has been saying for a long time.”
Mr Awad said the people causing problems were living in plain sight.
“They are on social media. People know them. They are in the Wellington region. They harass people in the supermarket, even at sporting grounds,” he said.
“At the mosque they often talk about how bad the treatment is from skinheads and they don’t hide themselves. They are well known people, the way they dress and how aggressive they are.
“Muslims have been aggressively monitored, but not the right-wing extremist people.”
Peter Dunne was in the New Zealand parliament for 33 years until he retired in 2017. In his final years as an MP he successfully pushed to have regular five-year reviews into the country’s intelligence agencies.
He said the security services had been never better resourced or trained, but he hoped a new inquiry announced by the Prime Minister would get to the bottom of whether New Zealand’s agencies had been negligent when it came to far-right extremists.
“I think there is some substance to that criticism,” he said.
“How far it goes, the inquiry will reveal, but the general flavour of publicly reported intelligence work over the past few years has been against jihadists, people fighting with ISIS and so on and so forth.
“There’s been very little public attention given to right-wing extremist groups.
“I’m not saying they weren’t being surveilled, but there hasn’t been any public reporting of it having happened.”
The admission from Mr Little that security agencies were still planning how to deal with the far-right threat is embarrassing for the Government, and it won’t be well received in Muslim communities in New Zealand.
However, Mr Omer still has faith in the New Zealand people despite the perceiving failings of the nation’s intelligence agencies and the abuse he has recently received on social media.
“When I was subjected to that online hate I questioned whether I would stay in New Zealand because I thought those people were everywhere,” he said.
“Then this happened. We lost 50 people, another 50 people are fighting for their lives. And then we saw the reaction of the Kiwis, the whole country and their support… Strangers coming to the mosque and crying.
“People who have never been in touch with any Muslim or seen a mosque at all … They are still coming to the mosque, crying with us, mourning with us, grieving with us.
“I have always had faith in New Zealanders’ tolerance and this has strengthened my faith. I’m not saying we don’t have a problem. There is a darker side. Of course we need to have a discussion. We need a serious talk. But I do have faith in New Zealand and the New Zealand public.”