What to know about the Muslim community in New Zealand targeted by deadly attack

Muslims make up 1 percent of a nation that prides itself on tolerance.

March 15, 2019, 4:46 PM

LONDON -- The terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left at least 49 people dead has sent shockwaves throughout the world.

"What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Twitter. "It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us."

There are 46,149 Muslims in New Zealand out of 4.7 million people, making up less than 1 percent of the total population, according to the 2013 New Zealand census; a full-scale national census is due to be published in April 2019.

The city of Christchurch only has three mosques, and two of them were targeted on Friday.

The attack is all the more shocking given its occurrence in what many consider one of the most peaceful places in the world -- and one that prides itself on its openness and tolerance.

The deliberate attack of Muslims at Friday midday prayers, the holiest time of the week, is an example of a growing trend around the world of far-right, white supremacist extremism, as noted by the 2018 Global Terrorism Index produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace.

People take part in a vigil at the New Zealand War Memorial on Hyde Park Corner in London, March 15, 2019.
Dominic Lipinski/AP

New Zealand has never experienced a terrorist attack before, according to ABC News senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell.

There were 48 homicides nationwide in 2017, a number lower than the 58 recorded in 2016, according to the latest police figures.

Unlike neighboring Australia, which has pursued a number of controversial immigration policies, New Zealand has encouraged migration from abroad.

New Zealand also voted in favor of the United Nations' Global Compact for Migration in December, the international pledge to "optimize the overall benefits of migration." By contrast, many governments around the world expressed objections to the pledge, as the Associated Press reported.

There was controversy in 2006, however, when two New Zealand newspapers re-published Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. After protests, the editors at the newspapers Dominion-Post and the Press apologized for the publication of the depictions of Muhammad, which are strictly forbidden in Islam, according to the Herald newspaper.

However, it is not just the people of New Zealand who have been shocked by the attack.

On the other side of the world, in nations including France, Britain and the U.S., security has been stepped up around mosques. World leaders, including the Pope and Elizabeth II, have expressed their condolences to the victims of the Christchurch attack.

The anti-radicalization group Hope Not Hate was also adamant that the "heartbreaking" attacks should be placed in a global context of the rise of the far-right.

"The bloody terrorist attack in Christchurch was carried out by a far-right activist who has published a manifesto explaining why he did it. It is full of praise for other anti-Muslim activists and ideas," Hope Not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles told ABC News. "In Oslo and Utøya, Charlottesville, Finsbury Park, Pittsburgh, and in so many places around the world, this violent ideology destroys lives and rips loved ones apart."

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