In an ironic turn of events, New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) snipers were training only a few miles away from the sites of the two mosque massacres that took place March 15th in Christchurch, New Zealand.
According to reports in New Zealand media outlets, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) was organizing a long-range shooting training event near Christchurch. The event was at a shooting range in West Melton, located approximately 15 miles west of the attacks. It included snipers from the NZSAS, the New Zealand Army, and the Australian Army, as well as some from undisclosed Asian countries.
Upon learning of the attack, the NZSAS operators deployed to the city during the search operation for Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist who killed 50 people and injured dozens more. One of the NZSAS operators was photographed, sniper rifle in hand and with his features masked behind a balaclava, standing next to a Special Tactics Group police officer; his picture is circulating throughout social media.
According to the New Zealand Herald, some special operators were deployed to a nearby high school after reports that it was also under attack. Further intelligence indicated these reports were inaccurate.
The terrorist was eventually caught by two regular police officers who happened to be in Christchurch for a training event at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Cashmere, a nearby community. Upon receiving notification of an active-shooter event in Christchurch, they scoured the streets for the gunman. Eventually, they saw a car fitting the description and decided to ram it. They dragged the gunman out of his destroyed car and arrested him.
In the end, the NZSAS operators could have done little to stop the gunman from massacring so many innocent people. The attack on the first mosque, Masjid al Noor, lasted approximately six minutes, resulting in numerous casualties. Within the hour, the shooter traveled to the second mosque, Linwood Masjid, and opened fire. The first law enforcement officers to arrive on the scene at al Noor were members of the local Armed Offenders Squad, which is a part-time unit comprised of officers from across the New Zealand Police designed to respond to low-threat scenarios.
These details demonstrate that a committed and well-prepared terrorist can spread mayhem before any official unit can respond. Further, it suggests that more emphasis should be placed on preventive measures—such as having armed officers near soft targets like schools, mosques, and synagogues.