WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealandâ€™s prime minister said she will do all she can to stop a man accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers from spreading his message of hate at his trial, while she hopes artificial intelligence will one day stop such attacks from being broadcast online.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described how she made decisions after the March 15 attacks at two Christchurch mosques, including introducing sweeping gun reforms and starting a global discussion on keeping violent extremism from the internet.
Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 29, has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism in the attacks and goes on trial next June.
Ardern said she thought Tarrant would try to use the trial to promote his views.
â€œItâ€™s clear that a part of this individualâ€™s motivation is creating a platform for himself. I think thatâ€™s absolutely clear,â€ she said. â€œAnd I think every opportunity we can to deprive the alleged terrorist of that should be utilized.â€
She said she was limited in what she could do but was encouraged by the pledge of New Zealandâ€™s major media outlets to avoid promoting white supremacist ideology when covering the trial.
Ardern said she stood by her decision to never speak the alleged gunmanâ€™s name.
â€œIf someoneâ€™s motivated by infamy, then you deprive them of it,â€ she said.
The gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook. Ardern said she hoped artificial intelligence could be used to stop future attacks from being broadcast, and that everybody had a responsibility to prevent such broadcasts from continuing to happen.
â€œEven Facebook have made moves around the way that they utilize livestreaming and who can access it,â€ she said. â€œIn the future, I believe we can actually use AI technology increasingly.â€
Ardern said she was traveling in a van on the outskirts of the North Island town of New Plymouth when she first heard about the attacks.
â€œThe scale of it and the magnitude of it took some time to come to grips with,â€ she said.
Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed in the attack on the Al Noor mosque, said New Zealanders were initially confused about what to think. But a week later at Muslim prayers in Christchurch, Ardern gave a nationally televised speech that Ahmed said united people with three simple words: â€œWe are one.â€
â€œIt was so beautiful, in just one sentence,â€ Ahmed said.
Ardern said she still had the piece of paper where sheâ€™d hurriedly written her sentiments after the attack, words that would later resonate around the world.
â€œTo me, it should have been the most unextraordinary thing to say. It was just my instinct around the way New Zealanders would be feeling,â€ she said. â€œYes, this was an attack, very explicitly on our Muslim community. But they were our Muslim community. I just felt that needed to be said straight away.â€
Ardern said nobody at the time was really analyzing what they were doing or saying, they were just responding, often with great compassion. She said everybody felt emotional at the time but she couldnâ€™t let that get in the way of doing her job.
â€œI did the best I could at making sure that I didnâ€™t let anyone down. I needed to keep going and keep focused and keep working on behalf of those families,â€ she said. â€œBut yeah, of course, undeniably it had an impact on me.â€
Ardern vowed to change New Zealandâ€™s gun laws after the attacks, and less than a month later all but one of the countryâ€™s 120 lawmakers voted in favor of banning assault weapons.
â€œIn my view, we are just total pragmatists,â€ Ardern said. â€œSo when we saw the scale, and magnitude, and impact of these types of weapons utilized in this way, even those who legitimately hold weapons, said â€˜Actually, we donâ€™t need those. Those donâ€™t need to stay.â€™â€
A gun buyback scheme that ends later this month has seen 37,000 newly banned weapons turned over to police, although some estimates indicate there could be many thousands of banned guns that havenâ€™t been turned in. Ardern said she felt the buyback had been a success.
â€œThose are tens of thousands of guns that are no longer in circulation,â€ she said. â€œAnd that is a good thing.â€
In a speech after the attacks, Ahmed told a crowd of about 20,000 people in Christchurch that he forgave the man who killed his wife. He said he didnâ€™t want to have a heart burning with anger and hatred.
Ardern said Ahmed was an extraordinary man. Asked if she could ever forgive the gunman, Ardern turned the focus back on those who were at the mosques.
â€œNo one is more central to what happened on the 15th of March than those who were directly affected,â€ Ardern said. â€œSo itâ€™s not for me to give.â€