Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says last Friday's massacre at two New Zealand mosques should in no way be linked to Christianity and that the gunman is no different from Islamic State terrorists.
"I categorically reject any attempt to associate last week's terrorist attacks with the teachings, morals or maxims of Christianity," the Muslim politician wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday by The Washington Post. "If anything, what happened in New Zealand was the toxic product of ignorance and hate."
Authorities say Brenton Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist suspected of killing 50 people in the mosques in the city of Christchurch, seemed keenly interested in Islam and its historical wars with Christianity.
They say that months before the attack, he traveled to multiple European sites of battles with the Ottoman Empire, which preceded modern day Turkey. The names of several Christian-Muslim battles in eastern Europe between the 14th and 20th centuries were displayed on his rifle magazines, according to authorities. And in his online manifesto, Tarrant vilified immigrants to Western countries and clamored for revenge against Muslims.
Erdogan accused the 28-year-old Tarrant, who visited Turkey twice in 2016, of trying to "legitimize his twisted views by distorting world history and the Christian faith." Erdogan added, "He sought to plant seeds of hate among fellow humans."
The Turkish president said Tarrant and IS shared a common objective: the conquest of the Turkish city of Istanbul. IS, he wrote, called for the "reconquest" of Istanbul — much like the Christchurch attacker, who pledged in his manifesto to make the city "rightfully christian owned once more."
"In this regard, we must establish that there is absolutely no difference between the murderer who killed innocent people in New Zealand and those who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey, France, Indonesia and elsewhere," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said he and other Muslim leaders vowed to counter "any attempt by terrorists to hijack our religion" following IS attacks but "Islamophobia and xenophobia, among other practices incompatible with liberal values, were met with silence in Europe and other parts of the Western world. We cannot afford to allow this again."
Erdogan said Western countries now have "certain responsibilities" after the Christchurch massacre, calling on them to "reject the normalization of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, which has been on the rise in recent years."
He applauded New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for urging Western leaders to "embrace Muslims living in their respective countries."
Erdogan has been campaigning ahead of local elections March 31 and made the mosque killings a central part of his campaign. A grainy video of the gunman attacking the mosques has been repeatedly played at his campaign meetings.
The New Zealand government has called on Ankara to stop airing the video and to turn down the rhetoric, which Wellington warns could provoke attacks on New Zealand citizens.