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Christchurch Attacks: Suspect Took Inspiration From Former Yugoslavia's Ethnically Fueled Wars

The Al Noor mosque after the March 15 shooting incident in Christchurch, New Zealand
The Al Noor mosque after the March 15 shooting incident in Christchurch, New Zealand

A 17-minute headcam video of one of the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque attacks on March 15 opens with an eerie scene of a man identifying himself as Brenton Tarrant driving to the Al Noor Mosque, where at least 41 people were gunned down.

In the background, the jaunty accordion strains of a Serbian nationalist song form a discordant duet with the robotic voice and unrelenting directions of Tarrant's GPS system.

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The song emerged around 1995, during the height of the ethnically fueled wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and left around 130,000 people dead.

Apparently originally titled Karazdic, Lead Your Serbs, the song references wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karazdic, the so-called Butcher of Bosnia who was convicted by an international tribunal in 2016 of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

"The wolves are coming, beware, Ustashi and Turks," the lyrics to the song run, referring to Croatian nationalist fighters and Bosnian Muslims. "Karazdic, lead your Serbs. Lead your Serbs. Everyone must see that they don't fear anyone."

"In defense of the Serb people...fighting for our beloved freedom, our beloved freedom," the song continues.

Anti-Muslim Slogan

The song's video, which was apparently recorded in 1995 but first posted on the Internet in 2006, has since become popular among radical white nationalists. In it, three men in ethnic Serbian paramilitary uniforms perform the song in a hilly field. The stony visage of accordionist Novislav Djajic in the video has itself become a common meme in nationalist circles under the rubric "Dat Face Soldier."

Djajic was indicted in Germany for participation in genocide in 1997. He was acquitted of the genocide charge but convicted of complicity in 14 murders and sentenced to five years in prison. After his release, he was deported to a third country.

The song's lyrics have been rewritten many times in many languages, always maintaining its militant anti-Muslim line. It often appears under the title Serbia Strong or Remove Kebab, an anti-Muslim slogan that began in Serbia but has been adopted by white supremacists across Europe and around the world.

New Zealand authorities have identified the gunman in custody only as a 28-year-old Australian. But reports confirm that the suspect -- who has been charged with murder as police try to determine if he acted alone -- is the self-described "ethno-nationalist" who live-streamed the attack and published under the name Brenton Tarrant.

A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by the gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch on March 15.
A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by the gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch on March 15.

Shortly before the attacks, which killed at least 49 people, Tarrant posted a 74-page manifesto in which he states that "more recently I have been working part time as a kebab removalist."

In his live-streamed video of the attack, the slogan "Remove kebab" can be seen painted on one of Tarrant's high-powered rifles. There are also the names of legendary Serbian knight Milos Obilic and Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, who both fought against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The names of several other Balkan figures who fought against the Turks over the centuries are also scrawled on Tarrant's weapons.

'Islamic Occupiers'

In his manifesto, Tarrant denies being a member of any organizations but says that he "only really took true inspiration" from Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in a bomb-and-gun attack in and around Oslo in 2011.

Before his attack, Breivik published a 1,500-page treatise with hundreds of references to the conflicts in the Balkans. According to The Economist, "Kosovo" is mentioned in Breivik's screed 143 times, while "Serbia" shows up 341 times, "Bosnia" 343 times, and "Albania" appears 208 times.

Breivik wrote that NATO's bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war in 1999 was a major motivation for his attack, saying it was "completely unacceptable" that U.S. and European governments "bombed our Serbian brothers."

Tarrant, in his manifesto, echoes that language, saying the United States must be weakened to prevent another situation where "U.S./NATO forces fought beside muslims [sic] and slaughtered Christian Europeans attempting to remove these Islamic occupiers from Europe."

Tarrant, who describes himself in the manifesto as an "ordinary White man, 28 years old" and an Australian native of "Scottish, Irish, and English stock," goes on to characterize the attack as "anti-immigration, anti-ethnic replacement and anti-cultural replacement."

Tarrant was expected to appear in a Christchurch court on March 16.

The New Zealand Herald described the mosque attacks as the country's worst mass killing since 1943.

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