New Zealand’s prime minister hopes to deny accused mass shooter notoriety

FILE - In this March 17, 2019, file photo, a police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred. Growing certainty that a single gunman was responsible for the attacks renews attention to warnings about the threat of terror attacks by ideologically driven lone actors. But stereotypes of such attackers, often called “lone wolves” in the U.S., risks obscuring the fact that many are not as solitary as some might believe, criminologists say. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Dunedin, New Zealand • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would deny the accused gunman the fame he sought by refusing to even speak his name in an emotive parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, the first since the worst massacre in her country’s modern history.

Espousing anti-immigrant, white nationalist ideology, 28-year-old Australian national Brenton Tarrant allegedly killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, rattling a country that takes pride in its safety, diversity and openness.

"He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety," Ardern said. "And that is why you will never hear me mention his name."

She added: "He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless."

The parliamentary session opened with a recitation in Arabic of verses from the Quran that "provide comfort and reassurance" from Imam Nizam ul Haq Thanvi.

Ardern opened her address to Parliament with a greeting in Arabic. "As-salamu alaykum," she said, looking up to the public gallery. "Peace be upon you, and peace be upon all of us."

Tarrant has so far been charged with a single count of murder, but authorities say more charges are coming. On Tuesday, police had just wrapped up forensic work at the house he rented in the city of Dunedin, south of Christchurch, and where authorities believe he had meticulously planned his attack.

Tarrant has fired his court-appointed lawyer and says he plans to represent himself in court, leading some to speculate that he's hoping to use the proceedings as a further platform for espousing his extremist white-nationalist beliefs.

The massacre has shocked the world not only because of its scale — the shooter continued his rampage for more than 30 minutes at two mosque before he was arrested — but also for the brazenness in which it was live-streamed on Facebook. Dozens commented, cheering him on, while others watched horrified as social media giants struggled to prevent the 17-minute video from being downloaded and re-shared over and over again.

He also published a 74-page manifesto ahead of the attacks, sharing it on Twitter and sending to dozens within New Zealand, including Ardern's office and media outlets.

While Tarrant is held in detention ahead of his next court appearance on April 5, he will be denied access to media, including radio, television and newspapers. The New Zealand Herald reported that he is under 24-hour surveillance and will not be allowed visitors.

Ardern declined to say whether his trial will happen behind closed doors, but she emphasized to reporters that New Zealand will deny him the ability to lift his profile through the attacks. In his only court appearance so far, Tarrant's face was blurred out in photographs and the video feeds showing him escorted into the courtroom, which the judge says will protect his right to a fair trial.

Despite the overwhelming support and praise for New Zealand's handling of the massacre's aftermath, families of victims are growing increasingly frustrated at the delay in receiving their loved ones' bodies.

Post-mortems had been completed on all 50 victims, police said in a statement Tuesday night, more than four days after the attacks. Twelve victims had been identified but only six bodies had been returned to their families.

"Police are acutely aware of frustrations by families associated with the length of time required for the identification process following Friday's terror attack," the police said.

According to Muslim beliefs, bodies should be washed and buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. The delays are causing many families more trauma after the attacks.

"Normally we shouldn't wait too long to bury, but in this case they're still taking time," Mohammed Bilal, whose cousin Syed Areeb Ahmen was killed in the attacks, told the New Zealand Herald.

Tariq Mohammed, whose father was killed, said tensions were running high.

"Fathers have died. Brothers have died. Everyone wants their body back, man," he told Stuff, a local news website. "There's going to be a lot of emotions, man. We are humans; we are not angels. We will have feelings."

Facebook said it removed more than 1.5 million versions of the attacker's live video feed of his mosque attack in Christchurch. Other platforms such as YouTube and Twitter similarly struggled to contain the spread of the gruesome footage. At the same time, users worldwide read through the attacker's manifesto, in which he laid out his worldview in a Q&A format.

Ardern's case for not naming terrorists or focusing on them isn't exactly new.

Some researchers argue that terrorism wouldn't exist without the publicity media grant them by reporting on their actions and ideologies.

On the flip side of this argument, however, some terrorism analysts have maintained that examining and discussing motives as well as individuals' path to radicalization is crucial to understand how to prevent future attacks. Democracies in particular, they argue, should have an inherent interest in understanding why some in their midst feel the need to resort to violent means to pursue ideological goals.

Besides that, there just aren't a lot of options to stop people from focusing on suspects, as history shows. When Germany's left-wing terrorists began kidnapping people across the country in the 1970s, the government introduced a news embargo. In other countries, terrorism suspects were charged in secret trials to avoid publicity and to prevent national-security-relevant details from becoming public. In both cases, however, foreign media outlets - not bound by the same rules - broke embargoes and questioned the government-imposed secrecy.

On Tuesday, Ardern was widely applauded for her initiative, including by the husband of late British lawmaker Jo Cox, who was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016.

"When Jo was killed I vowed the same," Brendan Cox wrote on Twitter. "I have often genuinely forgotten the person's name and my kids have never heard it. Notoriety is such an important driver for terrorists and we should all get better at denying them it."

Fifield reported from Christchurch, New Zealand. The Washington Post’s Rick Noack in London contributed to this report.