Skip to main content

51 killed in mosque shootings

15 March 2019

The Al Noor Mosque in August 2019
The Al Noor Mosque in August 2019 (Wikipedia)

New Zealand’s Muslim community suffered an horrific attack when a self-proclaimed ‘white nationalist’ opened fire on worshippers at mosques on Deans Avenue and in Linwood in Christchurch. Fifty people were killed and 41 wounded, one of whom died six weeks later.

The gunman used five weapons, including two semi-automatic assault rifles, in the attack, which was livestreamed on some websites. The death toll would have been higher but for the heroism displayed by unarmed men at both mosques, and by the police officers who forced the assailant’s car off the road. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as one of New Zealand’s darkest days.

In the following weeks, memorial events around the country were attended by thousands of people. Mosques welcomed visitors as the Muslim community displayed a remarkable capacity for forgiveness. Millions of dollars were raised to support the victims and their families.

Military-style semi-automatic weapons of the type used in the attack were soon outlawed. The government introduced a buy-back scheme for registered owners of these weapons, more than 60,000 of which were handed in, in return for compensation of about $103 million. In 2020 the government legislated to register firearms as well as license their owners, with new checks on whether they were ‘fit and proper’ persons to own guns.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian who was living in Dunedin at the time of the attacks, was charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder, and one of engaging in a terrorist act. The latter charge was the first laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. Tarrant pleaded guilty to all charges in March 2020 and received a life sentence with no prospect of parole in August 2020.

The report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques was released in December 2020. While finding no failures by government agencies that might have detected the terrorist’s plans, it noted that there had been an ‘inappropriate concentration’ of intelligence resources on the Muslim community and a permissive firearms regime. The government agreed in principle to all 44 recommendations, and senior minister Andrew Little was appointed to coordinate their implemenation.

Following the attacks, Ardern played a leading role in an international movement to persuade major technology companies to stop the dissemination online of terrorist and violent extremist content.

A memorial service planned for Christchurch on the first anniversary of the attacks was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A national remembrance service was held at Christchurch Arena on 13 March 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the attacks.

How to cite this page

51 killed in mosque shootings, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated