A New Zealand Muslim group reported a threat that explicitly mentioned March 15 just weeks before the Christchurch mosque shootings that killed 51 people.
The Islamic Women's Council (IWCNZ) today revealed that it warned police on February 21 last year about the Facebook message sent two days earlier, which threatened to burn the Qur'an outside a Hamilton mosque on March 15.
Police inquiries found the man who sent the comment had his location identified in Christchurch – but he was not deemed a threat.
The Islamic Women's Council says it's one example of many where if police and government agencies had listened to their warnings and concerns over repeated threats that the Christchurch mosque massacres would never have happened.
The Muslim group is making its submission to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Attacks public today.
"There were repeated major public service delivery failures in relation to government dealings with and responsibilities towards the Muslim community in Aotearoa New Zealand," Frances Joychild, QC, who represented IWCNZ before the royal commission, said.
"It is likely that, but for the failures (particularly of the security services and police), the horrific events of March 15, 2019, might not have occurred.
"If effective public service delivery had occurred and the requested structures and support put in place, the country would likely have been in a far better position to prevent or limit the destruction caused by the shooter."
Aliya Danzeisen, who leads IWCNZ's government engagement, says the group's efforts to get the government's attention prior to March 15 were "extensive and crossed several years" covering both the past and current governments.
"Evidence indicates that public sector employees were, at best, asleep on the job and, at worst, intentionally ignoring our pleas and actively undermining our work," Danzeisen said.
"If this can happen in the most open and transparent country in the world, all communities are at risk. People need to know IWCNZ's story so that those involved in government work never allow this to occur on their watch."
The Islamic Women's Council lodged a 127-page submission that highlights years of rising Islamophobia in New Zealand which increased in the days leading up to the March 15 tragedy.
On February 20, 2019 the Facebook page of the Women's Organisation of the Waikato Muslim Association (WOWMA) received hostile posts, with one asking why they would follow a religion where the Prophet Mohamed "rapes young women".
It went onto say there would be a burning of the Qur'an at the Hamilton mosque on Friday, March 15, 2019 – the day of the Christchurch attack.
The message was blocked and when reported to police, an officer "did not seem to take the matter too seriously", saying the individual was known to police, suffered from a mental illness and "would likely not harm anyone".
Police said the man's location indicated he was in Christchurch.
Before March 15 last year, New Zealand authorities had enough intelligence to warrant a coordinated national strategy, the Islamic Women's Council says, which would have alerted every mosque in the country to a threat to one mosque on Friday March 15, 2019 and for all mosques to take extra security measures.
"Whether or not the threat was connected to the Christchurch killer is irrelevant," its submission says.
If the mosque gunman had been subjected to the same scrutiny as "many Muslim religious groups and individuals who were having trouble getting into the country", he could have been watched, the group says.
"This is not a situation where SIS members can claim to have been caught by surprise. They were appraised," the IWCNZ submission states.
"The question is why did they not take the warnings of IWCNZ members seriously. At the same time there were terror attacks, hate crimes and alt-right activity occurring in other Muslim minority countries. The internet was flooded with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Why were IWCNZ warnings not placed alongside world events and action taken accordingly?"
Dr Maysoon Salama, national coordinator of IWCNZ and whose son was killed on March 15, said it was vital that all government agencies and services ensure they are providing culturally and religiously responsive support to minorities and ethnic groups.
"Government should be looking at development of long-term community building initiatives, as well as long-term support and compensation for victims' families," she said.
"Yes, there has been short term assistance, but the impact has been huge and will require long recovery time.
"There is clear need for establishing an independent Muslim Arbitration Tribunal for the impacted families, to deal with issues such as inheritance. Such a legal body or commission should be well-resourced to understand Islamic faith and laws."
Anjum Rahman, media spokesperson for IWCNZ, says their experience has been mirrored by many communities, and shows the need for government to change the way it works.
"The government must work to empower communities. We maintain that the structures of these institutions, and the systems and processes used by people in them, are discriminatory in design," Rahman said.