Christchurch mosque shootings: Brenton Tarrant pleads guilty to 51 murders
Australian Brenton Tarrant has pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder. He also admitted the attempted murder of another 40 people, and one terrorism charge.
An Australian man accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand's city of Christchurch a year ago has changed his plea to guilty in a surprise move on Thursday. This comes as New Zealand is in a state of lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The plea was made at a scaled-down court hearing in Christchurch High Court on Thursday.
Brenton Tarrant, 29, who appeared by video link, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act in the hearing. He had earlier denied the charges and was due to go on trial in June.
No members of the public were allowed in to the hearing. A representative of Al Noor mosque and Linwood mosque -- that were attacked was allowed to attend the hearing to represent the victims and their families.
The attacks had sent shockwaves around the world. After the massacre, New Zealand had brought in stricter gun laws.
"He has been convicted of each and every one of those charges," presiding judge Justice Cameron Mander said in minutes of the hearing released by the court. "The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding."
Tarrant has been in police custody since March 15, 2019, when he was arrested and accused of using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch. The attack was streamed live on Facebook.
Tarrant's guilty plea makes a six-week trial that was due to begin in June redundant. The court will instead move directly to sentencing Tarrant on all 92 charges. It did not provide a date for that sentencing and Tarrant was remanded in custody until May 1.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has stuck by a pledge to not name the gunman in public, said she let out "a massive sigh of relief" when she heard of the guilty pleas.
"The whole nation, but particularly the Muslim community, has been spared a trial that could have acted as a platform," Ardern said.
Aarif Rasheed, a lawyer working with some victim families, said they were not given any indication of why Tarrant changed his pleas from not guilty.
Tarrant, who faces a lifetime prison sentence, had posted a "manifesto" on social media ahead of the attack that called immigrants "invaders" and referred to "white genocide", a term used by white supremacists to describe the growth of minority populations.
Sheikh Hasan Rubel, 35, who survived from the attack despite being shot three times, said the guilty pleas brought both surprise and relief. "Whenever I thought about the court proceedings it used to affect me mentally, and I did not want to re-live all of it," he told Reuters over the phone.
"Now I feel quite relieved. We had faith in New Zealand's legal system and I was sure he will get whatever he deserves."
Farid Ahmed, whose wife was killed at the Al Noor mosque, said the guilty plea was the courageous and right thing to do. "His heart has realised what is right and he has admitted his guilt," Farid said.
The court placed a one-hour embargo on reporting the news in order to inform family members and victims about what had taken place before it was made public.