An Australian accused of killing 51 Muslim worshipers in New Zealand’s worst mass shootout changed his guilty plea to a surprise coup on Thursday.
Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link, admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of committing a terrorist act during a hasty hearing in Christchurch High Court.
“He has been convicted on each of these charges,” said presiding judge Justice Cameron Mander in minutes of the court hearing.
“The registration of guilty pleas is a very important step towards the completion of these criminal proceedings.”
Tarrant has been in police custody since March 15, 2019, when he was arrested and charged with using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch. The attack was broadcast live on Facebook.
Tarrant’s guilty plea dispenses with a six-week trial scheduled to start in June. The court will proceed directly to the conviction of Tarrant on the 92 counts. He did not give a date for the conviction and Tarrant was placed in pre-trial detention until May 1.
Premier Jacinda Ardern, who kept her promise not to name the shooter in public, said that she had “a deep sigh of relief” when she heard of the guilty pleas.
“The whole nation, but in particular the Muslim community, has been spared a lawsuit that could have served as a platform,” said Ardern.
Aarif Rasheed, a lawyer working with some of the victim families, said they had received no indication of why Tarrant had changed his guilty pleas.
“All possible explanations are speculative, but we know that terrorists often seek a sense of self-worth and care for their cause,” said Rasheed. “The Covid-19 pandemic has done away with that.”
Tarrant, who faces a life sentence, posted a “manifesto” on social media before the attack, calling the immigrants “invaders” and referring to “white genocide,” a term used by supremacists. white to describe the growth of minority populations.
Tarrant’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.
Due to a nationwide lockout for the coronavirus epidemic, Thursday’s hearing was held with only 17 people in the courtroom, including an imam for each of the two mosques attacked.
Sheikh Hasan Rubel (35), who survived the attack despite being shot three times, said the guilty pleas brought both surprise and relief.
“Whenever I thought about legal proceedings, it affected me mentally and I did not want to relive everything,” he told Reuters by phone.
“Now I feel quite relieved. We had confidence in the New Zealand legal system and I was sure it would get everything it deserves. “
Farid Ahmed, whose wife was killed at Al Noor Mosque, said that a guilty plea was the brave and fair thing to do.
“His heart realized what was right and he recognized his guilt,” said Mr. Farid.
“This would save him more emotional and mental trauma, as well as the time and effort of the rest of the country,” he added. “For the Muslim community, this will save them from the legal process and fresh memories of this tragedy.”
The court imposed an hour-long embargo on the publication of information to inform family members and victims of what had happened before it was made public. – Reuters