U.S. Ambassador Brown says New Zealand people rallying after mass murder

U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown and his wife, Gail Huff Brown, place flowers at a memorial a day after 50 were killed at two mosques in Christchurch, the worst mass murder during peacetime in that country’s history.

LOWER HUTT, New Zealand — U.S. Ambassador Scott Brown said the man who murdered 50 in two Muslim mosques to foment race and religious dissent will fail because the country’s people are rallying behind one another as Americans did after 9/11.

“I think it is going to have a reverse effect than what he wanted. Everywhere I see an outpouring for every community, an intentional showing of love and support for all religions, races, ethnic groups,” Brown said.

“I think it is really unifying this country. It reminded me of Boston after 9/11 when the city came together and then the whole state and country came together.”

During a telephone interview, Brown, a resident of Rye and former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said he believes the terrorist targeted Christchurch for this assault because it’s one of the most vibrant, diverse communities he’s ever seen.

An earthquake in 2011 in Christchurch killed 185 and destroyed much of its urban infrastructure.

“It is really a great melting pot and an incredible success story for how it revitalized and rebuilt itself. I think that is one of the reasons he chose Christchurch because it was having success with everyone getting along,” Brown said.

Brown and his wife, Gail Huff Brown, visited an Islamic Center Friday about a 15-minute drive from the ambassador’s residence in Lower Hutt.

The couple placed 49 lilies from their garden at an informal memorial to mark the number of deaths. Since the visit, one more person died and 50 remain hospitalized, Brown said. (Related story, Page A6.)

Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder in the worst peacetime mass killing in the country’s history.

Proportionately, the death toll in this country of 4.8 million rivals the 2,996 killed in the 911 terrorist attacks in America, Brown said.

Tarrant was not on a terror watch list for New Zealand and Australia. Brown said the tragedy will lead to more security in a country that prides itself on respecting individual freedoms.

“Listen, this came out of left field; nobody expected it,” Brown said.

New Zealand has a low incidence of violent crime but high levels of gun ownership by individuals. Typically police officers do not carry guns on the job; many unarmed police rushed to the murder scenes last week.

“There are about 1.4 million guns and probably even more unaccounted for,” Brown said. “You have a lot of farmers, outdoors men who use guns to take care of their livestock and use weapons in a very professional way. I’ve done shooting here, target practice and the like.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern predicted there will be changes in gun laws, including a possible ban on semi-automatic weapons.

“They have a coalition government so that has to work through the legal and political channels for change to take place, but I am anticipating this is going to be part of the future conversations,” Browns said.

Christchurch is the staging area for U.S. operations in Antarctica where more than 1,000 people work, including staff with the National Science Foundation along with the U.S. military.

“We had to make sure those assets were not in jeopardy. Once that was taken care of, I spent much of Friday working with the operations center and coordinating phone calls and other communication between the prime minister and our officials back home,” Brown said.

New Zealand is part of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement that’s been in place since before World War II and includes the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

“This is a more wide open and smaller country but there’s very strong security in the airports, lots of bio-security and a very solid police and intelligence network,” Brown said.

“This Five Eyes agreement gives them a very sophisticated ability to do intelligence work and they do it very well.”

While President Trump came under criticism for failing to specifically reach out to Muslim victims right after the event, Ambassador Brown took to Twitter to warmly embrace them.

“This morning uppermost in our thoughts are our Muslim brothers and sisters, their whanau and friends, and all those affected by these shocking events. Contrary to the peaceful teachings of Islam, the perpetrators of these attacks preach hate and they seek to divide us. We must ensure they fail,” Brown tweeted.

Whanau means extended family in the language of the Maori, the Polynesian people of New Zealand.

Brown said the United States stands in solidarity with New Zealand from a treaty that goes back nearly 190 years.

“The murderers who assaulted these houses of faith in Christchurch attacked all of us — our sense of decency, our values, and our humanity. We condemn this unfounded violence and hatred in the strongest possible terms,” Brown concluded on Twitter.

Brown urged people here to monitor his Twitter account, @USAmbNZ, saying he will post links for how Americans can support their Kiwi brethren.

“Frankly I think a lot of emotional support is the most valuable thing people can extend. Our country is the most philanthropic country in the world and I know the people of New Hampshire have always been so giving in times of unspeakable tragedy like this,” Brown added.