Australian police search residences near Christchurch suspect's home town

A student at a makeshift memorial at Christchurch's University of Canterbury yesterday, following a vigil to commemorate the victims of last Friday's mass shooting.
A student at a makeshift memorial at Christchurch's University of Canterbury yesterday, following a vigil to commemorate the victims of last Friday's mass shooting.PHOTO: DPA

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON • The Australian police have searched two homes in towns on the New South Wales mid-north coast linked to the investigation into last Friday's mass shooting at mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Police said that a search warrant was executed yesterday morning by the state's Joint Counter Terrorism Team at a home in the town of Sandy Beach, near Coffs Harbour, and shortly after, another warrant was executed at a home in Lawrence, near Maclean.

"The primary aim of the activity is to formally obtain material that may assist New Zealand police in their ongoing investigation," the agencies said in a joint statement.

They said the family of the Australian man arrested in Christchurch over the shootings was assisting police.

Australian media said one of the homes belonged to the sister of suspected white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who was charged in New Zealand with murder last Saturday.

Tarrant, who formerly lived in Grafton, in the same region where the police searches took place, has been remanded without a plea, and is due back in court on April 5. Police said he is likely to face more charges then.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said yesterday that Tarrant had spent only 45 days in Australia over the past three years and was not on any terror watch lists.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced more funding yesterday to defend religious establishments against potential attacks.

Mr Morrison said he would provide A$55 million (S$52.8 million) in community safety grants, with priority placed on security at religious schools, places of religious worship and religious assembly.

The funding, he told the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, would include closed-circuit television cameras, lighting, fencing, bollards, alarms, security systems and public address systems.

"I so wish we didn't need this in places of worship in Australia, whether they be at temples or schools or mosques or churches," said Mr Morrison. "It grieves me that this is necessary. But sadly, it is."

Mr Morrison was yesterday due to chair a meeting of the national security committee, where he will be briefed by Mr Duncan Lewis, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin on the local response to the mass shooting.

Separately, Israeli officials yesterday said Tarrant briefly visited Israel in 2016. He arrived on a three-month tourist visa and stayed in Israel for nine days in October 2016, immigration authority spokesman Sabine Haddad said.

Social media posts suggested that Tarrant's travels included trips to as far afield as Pakistan and North Korea.

On Sunday, Greek officials also said that Tarrant visited Greece briefly in 2016.

The news came after neighbouring Bulgaria and Turkey each announced investigations into visits that Tarrant had reportedly made to the Balkan region.

Tarrant visited the Greek island of Crete, and Santorini - a nearby island in the southern Aegean - in March 2016, according to a statement from the Ministry of Citizen Protection.

He flew in from the Turkish city of Istanbul on March 20, 2016, and stayed a few days on the islands.

Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said a man believed to be Tarrant had also travelled by bus across Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina from Dec 28-30 in 2016.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Police search residences near suspect's home town'. Print Edition | Subscribe